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The origin of kinship in Oceania: Lewis Henry Morgan and Lorimer Fison.

Lewis Henry Morgan's 590-page opus of tables and figures Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity, (1871) detailed 139 kinship systems from around the world (Tooker 1997:xii). It differed markedly from contemporary anthropological pastiches of explorer, missionary and settler anecdotes and narratives; for it was based on kinship schedules of over 280 terms, and required the close questioning of the informant for successful completion. Systems was held together by a fine thread of evolutionist conjecture in which Hawaii featured prominently as the base line of kinship. The following article examines the spread of kinship studies through Oceania (2) via Morgan's collaborator Lorimer Fison, and the importance of Pacific kinship systems to the development and challenging of Morgan's theory. A central question is whether the evolutionist theory of kinship progress along a single path, mapped onto existing populations and applicable to many of the burning questions of the period on relationships between human groups, was successfully challenged by the data and evidence that was collected from the periphery (Chambers and Gillespie 2000:223).

Lewis Henry Morgan's pioneer investigation into the socio-political structures of the Iroquois Indians in 1842 in order to replicate the system in his fraternal society, the Grand Order of the Iroquois, has entered the folklore of post-colonial American anthropology (Tooker 1983: 142, 1992: 359; Trautmann 1987: 40-43; van der Grijp 1997: 105). The American lawyer re-engaged with ethnology ten years later as new challenges to the doctrine of monogenesis--the single origin of humankind--emerged amongst American scientists who claimed multiple human origins and were bolstered by the cranial measurements of Samuel Morton and the work of Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz (Trautmann 1987: 27, 76-78). Throughout the 1850s and '60s, on both sides of the Atlantic and in settler societies across the world, debates raged over the distinctions between human populations and the theorising and measurement of human differences. Christian monogenists continued to insist on the single origin and essential similitude of all peoples but were increasingly challenged by scientific theories of multiple origins and immutable differences between human groups (Kenny: 2007). In Britain, members of both the Ethnological and the Anthropological Societies in England juggled physical and social evidence in their analysis of human diversity and a number embraced polygenesis, though the idea was heterodox in the wider community (Kenny 2007:382; Stocking 1968:75). Eventually both Evangelicals and polygenists were trumped by the new monogenism of the Darwinists who argued for the evolution of a single human species but at different rates that had led to longstanding and profound differences between 'races' measured physically according to the shape of the skull, the hue of the skin or the curl of the hair, or culturally through the progress of institutions, intellect or morality (Kenny 2007; Stocking 1968:56; 1987:148-50).

While Morgan initially believed in the fixity and permanence of species, he was eventually drawn to the temporal logic of Darwinian theory and, as with many other materialists of the period, transposed a simplified notion of biological adaptation onto human society, which he believed would be gradually perfected through time and along a single line. He described to his sceptical correspondent, Methodist missionary Lorimer Fison, his acceptance first of Darwin then the evolution of society based on the data provided by contemporary 'savages' and new evidence of human antiquity. (3)
 When Darwin's great work on the origin of species appeared I
 resisted his theory, and was inclined to adopt Agassiz's views of
 the permanence of species. For some years I stood in this position.
 After working up the results from consanguinity, I was compelled to
 change them, and to adopt the conclusion that "man commenced at the
 bottom of the scale" from which he worked himself up to his present
 status, that the record of this progress is still preserved to a
 remarkable extent in his inventions and discoveries which stand to
 each other in the ages of savagism, or barbarism and of
 civilization in a progressive series; and in his domestic and civil
 institutions which have been developed through the same periods. (4)

Morgan's theory of evolving kinship forms from primitive promiscuity to civilised patriarchy asserted human similarity across geographic or climatic boundaries, thereby simultaneously narrowing the human genus into a single species while providing an evolutionist explanation for perceived differentials in social development. With the publication of Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity (1871) Morgan declared he had mapped the kinship systems of four-fifths of the 'entire human family' into the classificatory paradigms of contemporary science (Morgan 1871:xxii). Yet despite his claim for the global reach of his investigation, he was aware that many 'inferior nations' were unrepresented (Morgan 1871:xxiii). This was especially important for Oceania given Morgan's insistence that Hawaiian relationships revealed the earliest forms of kinship recorded and the final remnants of primitive promiscuity. As Morgan gathered material principally from American expatriates and especially missionaries, only those islands with American populations or missions, namely Hawaii, Kusaie (Kosrae) and Kingsmill (Kiribati), were properly represented. Southern Oceania was completely absent apart from one incomplete schedule gathered from the Maori mission at Wanganui, by the Reverend Richard Taylor under the auspices of the US consul to the Bay of Islands (Morgan 1871:519). Yet as the tables were being set, Morgan received schedules on Rewan and Tongan kinship from Lorimer Fison, Methodist missionary to the Rewa delta on the large Fijian island of Viti Levu. Fison's subsequent engagement with the contemporary theories and methods of kinship studies and the breadth of his investigation using missionary colleagues of all denominations, introduced a generation of missionaries to metropolitan anthropology (Gardner 2006a). Yet Fison was not simply Morgan's apprentice: his keen engagement with the inquiry and his determination to gather a complete set of schedules from the colonies of Australasia and the islands of the Pacific, led him to new perspectives on kinship studies and the realization that the data did not fit the clean logic of Morgan's development thesis. Indeed, Morgan's schema was quickly challenged in British, European and eventually American anthropology (Lubbock 1872; Makarius 1977; Wake 1879). Yet the reified theory of kinship development gained a much wider and enduring currency through the writings of Friedrich Engels and was particularly important for the positioning of Australian Aborigines on the ladder of evolutionism (Engels 1884; Hiatt 1996:59; Spriggs 1997; Tooker 1997:xii-xvii: Trautmann 1987: 251; van der Grijp 1997:122; Wolfe 1999:88).

As Trautmann has shown, Morgan's legal training in the Roman system of kinship led him to the profound appreciation of the alterity of the matrilineal Iroquois who not only 'follow the female'--rather than the male line of the Roman system--but also positioned the children as separate from the lather through kinship classes that determined marriage partners (Trautmann 1987: 53; van der Grijp 1997: 114). To the American lawyer the Amerindian system of reckoning relationships flew in the face of the Roman method and thus at the very heart of western civilisation for it denied inheritance of property or status from father to son. For Morgan, and a number of his anthropological contemporaries, the explanation that could both explain this aspect of human difference while containing the distinctions within the monogenist paradigm of the single human species was that the civilised family had a matriarchal communal origin, the central point of Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private ProperO, and the State (1884) (Hiatt 1996:60; Trautmann 1987: 2534; Wolfe 1999:73). Morgan's attempt to unravel his great kinship mystery: the divide between the patriarchal nuclear kinship systems of ancient Rome and contemporary Europe, and what he termed the 'classificatory' systems of Asia and the New World, led him to define the Amerindians he first investigated and all those who follow 'mother-right' as living remnants of European civilisation whose cultural forms showed the 'history and experience of our own remote ancestors' (Morgan, quoted in Trautmann 1987:28-29; Wolfe 1999:69-105).

Keen to confirm monogenist speculation, based on models of dispersion, that Amerindians had originally migrated from Asia, Morgan extended his inquiries into South India. The answer received from Dr Scudder, missionary to the Tamil people with the details confirmed by direct questioning after his return from the field, proved crucial. As Morgan had predicted, the Tamil and Iroquois systems 'were substantially identical' (Morgan 1868:455; Trautmann 1984:422; 104-8; Tooker 1992: 94, 1997:ix). Morgan added details on the Tamil and Telugu peoples to his earlier pamphlet where he had described the Iroquois 'failure' to recognise degrees of consanguinity and described how all brothers of the lather were termed 'father'; all sisters of the mother were 'mother' (5) The 'aunt/uncle' relationship was only recognised for the father's sister or the mother's brother while "cousins' were the offspring of these relatives alone (Morgan 1860: 4; Trautmann 1987: 53). He then widened his search to the American missions of Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands (Morgan 1860: 9, 1871:5-6).

As these schedules were returned Morgan defined two opposing forms of kinship: first the descriptive or 'blood' ties of the Roman system, which he classified through philologist Friedrich Max Muller's linguistic schema as Aryan, Semitic and Uralian (Morgan 1871:57; Muller 1861:43; Trautmann 1987:124). Morgan held this to be the 'natural' system, transmitted through the medium of blood which he believed to be the *actual' or 'real' means by which kinship was transferred through generations: (Morgan 1871:10; Wolfe 1999:88). The theological, ontological and historical implications of the blood metaphor were deeply entwined in Morgan's classification. Despite his personal ambivalence towards Christianity, with some careful manoeuvring he managed to ensure that the peoples of the Book--Christians, Jews and Muslims--were all 'descriptive' or 'natural', therefore implying that only those under the influence of the monotheistic or creator God understood the role of 'blood' in determining the 'natural' degrees of kinship (Feeley-Harnik 1999; Trautmann 1987:132).


Across the great kinship divide lay the system that Morgan defined as 'classificatory' because of the failure to recognise the importance of blood. These were eventually termed the 'Malayan' (now Hawaiian)--with the Hawaiian form as 'typical'--'Ganowanian' (now Iroquois)--with the Seneca-Iroquois as type--and 'Turanian' (now Dravidian)--with the Tamil as type--a nomenclature based on language, origins, dispersion and technology, for which Morgan provided full references and sources in Systems. Derived from the Hawaiian schedules with very scanty details from the Malay Archipelago 'Malayan' was named for the presumed origins of the Polynesian peoples based on James Cowles Prichard's fourth edition of The Natural History of Man (1855:20) (Morgan 1868:438, 1871:449). 'Ganowanian' for Amerindians, was a combination of 'bow' and 'arrow' in the Seneca dialect of the Iroquois language, thus 'the family of the Bow and Arrow', which followed Muller's suggestion of 'Aryan' for 'one who ploughs or tills' (Morgan 1868:438, 1871:131). 'Turanian', taken from Muller's Science of Language, translated as 'the swiftness of the horseman', was bordered by the Turkish languages to the northwest and the Malay to the south and included the peoples of India, China and Japan. (Morgan 1871:131,385-6). As the Roman system was 'natural', those described as 'classificatory' became, in Trautmann's words, 'the problem variant to be explained' (1987: 54). Throughout the years of preparing the manuscript of Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family for publication and responding to the criticisms of the Smithsonian Institute, Morgan developed the evolutionist theory that was grounded in the schedules from Hawaii and was first proposed by his friend the Rev. Joshua Hall McIlvaine, Presbyterian minister, later Professor at the College of New Jersey, and close reader of the long Systems manuscript (Morgan 1868; Trautmann 1987:159-61).

Morgan's first versions of the schedule had been posted to the American missions in Hawaii and Micronesia in 1860. His most important response was from former missionary, Lorrin Andrews, who had been resident in the islands since the 1827 and established the seminary that eventually became the University of Hawaii, though he resigned his post in protest as the funding for the mission was received from the pro-slavery southern churches. He wrote a number of studies in Hawaiian and produced a dictionary of the Hawaiian language in 1865 that remains an ethnohistorical source for analysis of changing land-use patterns in the islands (Kirch and Sahlins 1992:179). Appointed as a judge and secretary of the Privy Council for the Hawaiian government in 1845, Andrews dealt with the probate issues of his former congregations and thus gained the same legal insight into the kinship structures of Hawaiians as Morgan did of the Iroquois (Spoehr 1981:451-3).

Andrews' schedule, which he returned after checking his responses with King Kamehameha IV, was the first systematic evidence for the system that has ever since held its place in cultural anthropology text books as the most simple with the fewest number of terms (see for example, Ember and Ember 2007:201). Unlike the Iroquois or the Tamil, the Hawaiians did not distinguish in any way between fathers and uncles or mothers and aunts. In Systems Morgan explained that for Hawaiians 'all the brothers of my father, and all the brothers of my mother are my fathers, and all the sisters of my father, and all the sisters of my mother are my mothers' (Morgan 1871, 454-56). Andrews gave further details in his 'notes on the Hawaiian degrees of relationship' that he included with the completed schedule. As the Hawaiian system was so important to his theory Morgan reproduced these verbatim in Systems and drew particular attention to the custom of pinalua (now punalua) that Andrews described:

26. The relationship of pinalua is rather amphibious [sic]. It arose from the fact that two or more brothers, with their wives, or two or more sisters with their husbands, were inclined to possess each other in common; but the modern use of the word is that of dear friend, an intimate companion' (Andrews, quoted in Morgan 1868:452; 1871:453).

Combining the simplicity of the Hawaiian system and the suggestion of 'intermarriage or cohabitation of brothers and sisters in a communal family', Morgan and McIlvaine developed the theory which was first published as the 'Conjectural solution of the origin of the classificatory system of relationship' (Morgan 1868:467), and was further elaborated in Systems (Morgan 1871:448-66). Morgan proposed that the Hawaiian or 'Malayan' system was 'nearer the primitive system of relationship of the human family than any other hitherto discovered' through the Hawaiian 'failure' to recognise aunts, uncles or cousins (Morgan 1868:444; 1871:455). Andrews' sparse sketch of what became known as 'the Hawaiian custom' that hinted at the cohabitation of brothers and sisters, was backed by the Rev. Artemus Bishop. He reported the Hawaiian 'confusion' between husbands and brothers-in-law, and wives and sisters-in-law; the result 'of the ancient custom among relatives of the living together of husbands and wives in common' (Morgan 1871: 457). While acknowledging that he had no evidence that brothers ever cohabited with sisters in Hawaii, Morgan simply noted that 'the fact will be assumed' and declared: 'the pre-historic existence of promiscuous intercourse as the origin of all kinship systems'. The Hawaiian, the synecdoche for 'Malayan', was classified as the most primitive system of relationship yet discovered, for it was simpler and 'therefore older than the Ganowanian and Turanian systems which prevail among the great body of the American Indian and Asiatic nations' (Morgan 1868: 444). Thus the schema was established: all societies, Morgan claimed, could be plotted to the following stages.

--Promiscuous Intercourse

--the cohabitation of Brothers and Sisters

--the Communal Family

--the Tribal Organization

--the Barbarian Family


--the Patriarchal Family the rise of property

--the Civilized Stage of the Family

--The Overthrow of the Classificatory System of Relationship and the Substitution of the Descriptive (Morgan 1868: 479-80).

Crucial for this analysis was Morgan's presumption that the Oceanic kinship forms he had not yet gathered would prove similar if not the same as the Hawaiian/Malayan and that his kinship system was a key indicator for other aspects of the development of society through the evolutionist pipeline.

Morgan developed his argument further in Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity to provide an isolationist explanation for why Hawaiians were so archaic in their relationships. As islands had provided the zoological and botanical evidence for the theory of evolution based on change and development in geographically isolated populations, Morgan believed they also provided the sites for the earliest forms of kinship. He argued that the opportunities for development were greatly diminished in island life: their inhabitants could be likened to living in island 'cages' separated from the movements of peoples and epochs and undeveloped as a result of their ignorance of continental cereal crops (Morgan 1871: 448). (6) Morgan's classification of the Oceanic peoples was based on James Cowles Prichard's divisions from the Natural History of Man into the 'Papuans', the 'natives of Australia' and the Malayo/Polynesians, the latter backed by Missionary Artemus Bishop's agreement that Polynesians originated from the Malay Archipelago (Morgan 1871:326-328). Morgan believed that the Oceanic schedules proved the spread of the Hawaiian/Malay form, yet he acknowledged that he did not have a schedule from the 'Malays proper', and at that stage the southern Pacific islands were virtually unrepresented (1871 : 451).

Ten years after the kinship details were returned from Hawaii, the printed schedule and accompanying pamphlet describing the Iroquois and Tamil kinship systems arrived 'in a dilapidated condition' at the Methodist station on the Rewa river flats of Viti Levu where Lorimer Fison was establishing his family after six years in Fiji, much of it at the Lakeba station in the Lau group. Well read in the racialist theories then being developed in Britain, and with one year at Cambridge under his belt, where he passed the classical and theological examinations and read mathematics (Stern 1930:428), Fison brought metropolitan ideas on racial difference to the Fiji field and argued, against his Methodist colleagues, that the natural laws of racial destiny would lead, inexorably, to the demise of the Fijian and the tri umph of the British settler. To his sisters in England and the wider educated circle to whom his correspondence was directed, he freely expressed his heterodox views and declared his congregations to be 'incapable of social and political improvement' with ominous consequences: 'they can be made fit for heaven: but they cannot be made fit for Earth ... They are made of different stuff'. (8) The ambitious Fison was clearly disappointed that his religious duty left him sidelined from his racial destiny. He complained to his sisters that it was difficult not to feel envious of his fellow Britons who were 'laying broad and strong, the foundations of a great work, who will grow ever greater and more glorious, as our race fills up the empty land, making its wilderness to "blossom as the rose"'. Meanwhile it was his melancholy missionary duty to nurse 'the old and feeble one, just sinking into the grave, striving with saddening heart to sooth his few remaining days'. (9) He was unsuccessful in his effort to establish a presence in Britain with a series of Tongan and Fijian fables sent to his sister in Oxford in 1865 with instructions to pass them on to Muller, whose work on comparative mythology was well known to missionaries (Muller 1876:212 [first published 1856]; Stocking 1995:18).


Fison welcomed the 1860 pamphlet in December 1869 via the circuitous route from his brother-in-law George Waring at Oxford, who had received it from his friend at Cornell University the journalist and lecturer Goldwin Smith, who passed it on from the Smithsonian Institute in America: here was an opportunity for the young doubting missionary to embark on a systematic study of human difference and engage directly in metropolitan debates. (10) Morgan's fourteen-page description of the system included details of the Iroquois and the Tamil and Telugu peoples of southern India, but not his subsequent conjecture on the development of the human family based on Hawaii, which was first published in 1868. Had the paper included the details of Hawaiian kinship Fison would have argued explicitly that they differed substantially from his Fijian neighbours for the latter clearly acknowledged a relationship comparable to 'uncle' and 'aunt', and the system closely matched Tamil kinship forms. From his first reading Fison was definite about where the people of the Rewa River delta fitted into the schema up to that point. Indeed the similarities astonished him and he reported his response to Smith and his sisters as a moment of epiphany: 'I was quite startled by my first hasty glance over the pamphlet'
 Even now I can scarcely believe my eyes, for all that is said of
 the Tamil and Teluqu [sic] may be said of the Fijian also. The
 systems are not merely similar they are positively identical. It
 made my heart leap to read 'the principal features of the Tamil and
 Teluqu system' set forth, one after another, in the very words
 which one would use in describing the Fijian system; &c, so
 startling are the facts disclosed that, before I got to the end, I
 actually turned the pages back again, in order to assure myself, by
 looking at the preliminary remarks, that I was not reading an
 account of the Fijian system [emphasis in the original].

Fison grasped the immediate and broader implications of such similarities for the questions of racial origin and dispersion. The details were also a challenge to his uncertainty over the theological doctrine of human unity:
 Here is something worth inquiring into, for while similarities in
 language and customs may lead us into mistakes and bewilderment ...
 the fact of an intricate system like this existing among tribes so
 widely scattered, is conclusive in its evidence beyond all

As Stocking notes, the most important point for many commentators on kinship at this time, and clearly Fison was among them, was the suggestion of dispersion across climatic zones which challenged the polygenist insistence that human groups arose separately (1995:18). [NB There is a contemporary echo to Fison's kinship findings for a recently developed theory of world kinship has again raised the similarities of the Fijian and Tamil (now Dravidian) kinship systems (Hage 2001).]

Within a month Fison had posted Rewan and Tongan schedules back to Smith and had initiated a number of his missionaries around the Pacific to Morgan's theory and the study of kinship. Hand printed copies of the questions and a short description of the method and Fison's analysis of Fiji went to George Brown in Samoa and John Osborne in Rotuma. The Victorian Presbyterian, the Reverend Robert Hamilton, was approached to distribute schedules to the Moravian missionaries to Aborigines then operating in the Western districts and the Gippsland region of Victoria, and in Queensland. (12) Each received details on Fijian and Tongan kinship and the following passage:
 Just now I have a most remarkable affair in hand sent to me by
 Goldwin Smith from a scientific Institution at Washington US. There
 are 285 printed questions to answer about the system of kinship
 among these Fijians; and to my unbounded astonishment, I find the
 singular and intricate Fijian system to be positively identical
 with that prevailing among the N.A. Indians, and the Tamil and
 Telugu tribes of India. (13)

To the general-secretary of the Australasian Methodist mission, Stephen Rabone, Fison explained the study and its theological significance: 'the enquiries are of the utmost importance to ethnological science, and promise the grandest results, pointing as they do to a common origin for all these races, and so affording a striking evidence of the truth of God's Word'. (14) While his enthusiasm was born of the broad theological and scientific implications of the study, Fison also displayed a keen sense of the methodological issues and a resolve to ground his analysis firmly in the data. He was determined to collect schedules from all the Fijian language groups within the Methodist Empire that had spread across the islands beginning with the Lau group in the east from the 1830s, often with the martial assistance of Tongan Christians (Gunson 1978:20;Thornley 2002). Methodist colleagues Carey, Rowe, Tait and Rooney were pressed into filing schedules and chided for their tardiness or mistakes. (15) He never missed an opportunity to gather data from any hapless Fijian or sojourning islander who crossed his path: 'Since I have been here (Bau--the small island at the mouth of the Rewa delta and the site of the kingdom of Tui Viti Cakobau who later ceded Fiji to the British) I have captured a Ba native and have got out of him the Ba, system of kinship ... I expect to get the Wallis Islands system also during my stay in Bau'. (16) Fison was alert to some of the methodological issues that arose as a result of Morgan's use of the Iroquois as the basis for the investigation. The question of 'nations' and 'tribes', into which the Amerindians could be readily defined, was more complex in Fiji. Fison began by classifying the people of Rewa as a 'lofty, exalted' nation, one of many in Fiji, and the four divisions within the 'nation' as the 'tribes' but eventually discarded the latter term. (17) By February of 1870 Fison was seeking quotes for the printing of 100 copies of an abridged version of Morgan's schedule, with the questions translated into Fijian, which he intended to send into the interior of the large islands. (18)

After establishing contact, Fison received Morgan's articles and pamphlets within a short time of their publication. Yet the cumbersome 590 page Systems (1871) struck problems with postage and took three years to cross the Pacific. Therefore Fison, while aware of the outline of Morgan's theories, was not a simple acolyte and his detailed memoranda on the schedules he gathered from colleagues, shows the independence of much of his analysis. (20) When Morgan received Fison's first schedules and his accompanying letter, he could see that the missionary clearly identified the Rewa people as 'Tamalian'--though by now Morgan had adopted the philological term 'Turanian'--and therefore one step up from the Hawaiians according to the schema. Fison's 'Remarks on the Tongan System', and 'Remarks on the Fijian System', which were published in Systems, were unequivocal about the distinction between the 'mother's sister's son' who is a 'brother', and the 'mother's brother's son' who is a 'cousin'. This was the uncle/aunt relationship that marked the first step, for Morgan, into the barbarian family and provided a striking contrast to the Hawaiians (Morgan, 1871:574-75). Alert to the sparseness of his Pacific material, Morgan welcomed Fison's data on the Rewa 'nation' of Viti Levu and the Tongans he had become familiar with at the Tongan colony of Lakeba in the Lau group (probably filled out with the assistance of a Tongan pastor, who worked with their European counterparts on Fijian stations). Therefore Fison's schedules were included as an appendix in Systems, despite their arrival after the Tables were set. Morgan was, however, able to revise the Table showing the 'Systems of consanguinity and affinity of the Turanian and Malayan families' (Morgan 1871:521).

Despite Fison's clear belief that the Rewan and Tongan kinship systems were identical to those of the Tamil people of southern India, Morgan positioned the Fijian and Tongan data within the Malayan system of which the Oceanic was the class. This was partially the result of his use of language in his schema. Islanders were defined not simply by kinship system but also by 'dialect'. Morgan defined the Hawaiian, Maori, Tongan and Fijian 'dialects' as Polynesian though he noted that Horatio Hale had classified the Tongans within Polynesia and the Fijians outside it (Morgan 1871:568). Each 'dialect' was then numbered according to the development of their kinship systems. Thus the Tamil and Telugu of the Dravidian peoples were first and second of the Turanian family with the Chinese and Japanese positioned at eight and nine. The Malayan family began with the Micronesians who came in at 14 and 15 (Morgan 1871:519). Without explanation, Morgan placed Fison's Tongan and Fijian 'dialects' at 18 and 19, just below the Maori and just ahead of the 'Amazulu'. This was despite the data which, according to the schema, ought to have positioned the Fijians and Tongans above the Hawaiians for the crucial distinction, described as an advance, that described the mother's brother as 'uncle' even if the mother's sister was also 'mother' (Morgan 1871:568). Morgan was puzzled by the 'Turanian' element in the Rewa system and acknowledged that it was 'a remarkable fact' that required explanation. The Tongan schedule was even more difficult to classify and Morgan acknowledged that it 'rises nearly to the Turanian standard' (Morgan 1871: 572).

It was December 1870 before Fison received his first letter from Morgan that included proofs of his Tongan and Fijian schedules and an unnamed paper that was almost certainly the 1868 publication 'A conjectural solution to the origin of the classificatory system of relationship' in which Morgan proposed the idea from the Hawaiian schedule that promiscuous intercourse was at the base of the classificatory system. Enthralled by the explanation, Fison devoured the paper, oblivious to the mosquitoes that were consuming him in his Rewa home:
 As I read, fact after fact connected with these tribes started up
 before my mind, revealing themselves in their true significance,
 and I felt like a man who, long had in his possession stones which
 he despised as common wayside pebbles, suddenly discovering that
 they are now priceless gems. (21)

While Fison had clearly believed in racial destiny and determinism prior to his engagement in kinship, his 10-page response to Morgan showed his capacity to think beyond the primitive/civilised dichotomy to something closer to a relativist explanation. For example, his careful examination of the term Yalo 'soul' was more ethnographic--viewed in its own terms--than ethnological, viewed purely in relation to another culture. Yet his responses were shaped by Morgan's suggestions and Fison was quick to theorize on the age of a particular term in order to position Fijians on the ladder of the development of the family from 'promiscuous intercourse' to the 'Barbarian' family. (22)



Two years after the publication of Systems Sir John Lubbock, the great populist of evolutionist theory and the inaugural president of the newly amalgamated Anthropological and Ethnological Societies, opened the first meeting of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain with a long paper on Morgan's opus. While he congratulated Morgan for producing 'one of the most valuable contributions to ethnological science which has appeared for many years', (1872:2) he was not convinced that similarity in kinship forms would prove to be a straightforward mechanism for tracing the prehistory and the dispersal of peoples across the globe and he quickly turned to Fison's Tongan and Rewa schedules to challenge Morgan's schema. Lubbock described to his audience how the Hawaiian system ignored 'uncleships and auntships' and simply differentiated 'parent male' from 'parent female' (Lubbock, 1872: 10-11). Then, noted Lubbock, a further advance could be found in the Iroquois system with the gradual 'strengthening' of the 'nephew' relationship and eventually to the Burmese and Japanese which utilised the 'nephew' and 'niece' relationship, though as all their offspring were 'grandchildren' the third generation was returned to the 'direct line'. The problem, for Lubbock, was in the close similarity between the Tamil and the 'Feejeean' and 'Friendly Islands' system. Surely, he argued, it was well known that the Fijians and Tongans belonged to 'very distinct divisions of mankind' from the Tamil and while similarities between kinship systems may be 'proof of identity in human character and history' they were clearly not useful for identifying 'ethnological affinities' (Lubbock 1872:7). Morgan's problem, claimed Lubbock, was his reliance on kinship alone and his failure to include polity and society in his analysis, a challenge met by Morgan in Ancient Society (1877). In the discussion following the paper an audience member suggested that even if the kinship systems of the Tamil, Iroquois, Fijian and Hawaiian were similar, differences were revealed in their cranial forms (Dendy in Lubbock 1872:26). By coincidence, Fison read Lubbock's article while waiting to deliver his first paper on kinship in Melbourne to the Royal Society of Victoria in December 1872. The following week he complained to Morgan, by now a regular correspondent, that Lubbock's analysis was typical of his habit of simply rejecting any evidence that challenged his theories. For Fison, the explanation for racial distinctions even when kinship systems displayed similarities was that kinship was what is now termed palingenetic--reproduced in its ancestral form without modification--'kinship studies carry us back far beyond the formation of the various recognized parent stocks of the Human Family ... beyond the dividing of the waters'. Therefore Fijians may be 'of a different stock from that of the N. Americans, and still may have had a common origin'. (23)

The more serious challenge came from C. Staniland Wake, early member, later director of the Anthropological Society whose first papers formulated divisions between human populations using folkloric, biblical, linguistic, physical and psychical evidence based on the theory that contemporary populations could be mapped to the stages of the human lifespan (Needham 1967:viii-ix; 1975:369-371; Stocking 1987:179-81; Wake 1868; 1872a; 1873). Wake showed an especial interest in the physical, mental and tribal characteristics of Aborigines, initially contending the phylogenetic argument that they were at the stage of the child 'whose actions have relation wholly to self' (1868: cixviii; 1871; 1872b). From the mid 1870s Wake became closely engaged in Morgan's theory of kinship, possibly reflecting a correlation between Morgan's descriptive and classificatory peoples and Wake's Biblical division of the 'Adamites' and the 'pre-Adamites'(1872a). In the early 1880s Wake began corresponding with Fison and his subsequent publications on kinship drew on Fison and A. W. Howitt's analyses of Fijians and Aborigines (Wake 1883; 1884; 1889). Wake's first response to Morgan, however, revealed the great distinction between the American and his British counterparts, for the latter based their analysis almost entirely on the texts of travel and encounters from around the world that had burgeoned from the late 1880s. Despite the evidence of Hawaiian kinship available in historical texts, Morgan failed to discuss the chiefly practice of brother/sister marriage that had so impressed itself on the minds of American settlers and missionaries and it was from these sources that Wake mounted his criticism of Morgan. To ensure that offspring maintained the highest rank possible, chiefs had the option of marrying either 'half-sisters' or 'nieces', (Linnekin, 1990:76), though as Linnekin notes this was often just the first marriage and nineteenth century descriptions suggest that Hawaiian marriage was more a series of liaisons that formed multiple affinal links rather than rigid classificatory lifelong bonds (1990:121). The role of missionaries in the gathering of material on kinship was significant to the findings. From the establishment of the American Board of Foreign Missions in the islands in 1820, missionaries had fought an ongoing war against the casualness of Hawaiian marriage, both in the church and in the courts where adultery became the most common charge and was reported as the 'predominant vice' of Hawaiians (Linnekin 1990:122). Morgan was clearly unfamiliar with the key nineteenth century texts on Hawaii published prior to his investigations: William Ellis Polynesian Researches (1829), James Jarves History of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands (1843) and volume four of Admiral Charles Wilkes Report from the United States Exploring Expedition (1845), in which he described marriage between the highest ranked brothers and sisters to ensure offspring maintained the purity of the parents, though noted that such 'incestuous intercourse is, in other cases, contrary to the customs, habits, and feelings of the people' (1845: 32). Despite this serious challenge, Hawaii remained the base for Morgan's schema and the islands' dubious distinction of being the last living remnant of 'primitive promiscuity' was continued with his description in Ancient Society of the full development of the human family beginning with the 'Consanguine Family' followed by the 'Punaluan Family', named for Andrews' brief description of a habit that he claimed was no longer in use (Morgan 1877:427).

Apart from a half-hearted defence of the Hawaiian analysis in Kamilaroi and Kurnai, (Fison and Howitt 1880: 100) in which he acknowledged the importance of the nobility to the data on brother/sister marriage, Fison made no specific response to the attacks on the Pacific data by the British theorists, concentrating instead on the broader questions raised by McLennan on whether kinship terms were reflective of actual relationships or merely forms of address (Fison and Howitt 1880; 99-106). His subsequent engagement with Aboriginal kinship was so encompassing that despite the significance of the similarities between the Rewan and Tamil kinship systems for his own relationship to his Fijian neighbours and congregations and his initial engagement with kinship studies he made little attempt to develop the issue further.

From the beginning of their correspondence, Morgan was aware of Fison's ability. His meticulously completed schedules showed his acolyte had 'mastered the subject' and in late 1870 the American urged him to 'work out the system of Polynesia, Micronesia, Madagascar and the Papuan Islands', and, if possible, to write his own book on the Pacific Islands: their 'principal domestic institutions', polity, dance, burial, marriage, disposal of property and religion. (24) Fison demurred that he was without 'the proper knowledge requisite for the task' and that his role was simply to 'bring materials for the great master builders of science'. (25) Within a week of receiving Morgan's exhortation to work on the Pacific, Fison wrote to the editor of the Argus in Melbourne describing the rudiments of the classificatory system and seeking others to engage in the work of gathering schedules in the colonies. As to the 'arranging, comparing and drawing conclusions from the material gathered', he wrote, 'all this I am quite willing to do myself. (26) Fison was preparing a new kinship field for he knew that his time in Fiji was coming to a close and as he was writing to Morgan he was simultaneously planning his return to the Australian colonies. His wife had been ill since the birth of their last child and the doctor insisted she leave Fiji for a cooler climate. (27) Though his professional connection was with Morgan he confided in Rabone that he would 'prefer to correspond with an English Society' for he felt 'no obligation to the Americans'. (28) The family steamed to Sydney at the end of January 1871 and settled first in the suburb of Newtown. Within a month Fison had arranged the printing of 500 circulars and schedules at the printery adjoining the local Wesleyan Church which he planned to send around the Australian colonies, thus marking the beginning of his investigation of Australian kinship. (29)

The Pacific kinship material had proved unexpectedly unruly. As Sahlins noted, the Hawaiian chiefs clearly distinguished themselves from the barbarism of commoners, yet they had become the base indices of kinship through the practice of brother/sister marriage which was a symptom of their deeply stratified society (Sahlins 1981:31). This was quickly pointed out by Wake. The challenge of the Rewan and Tongan kinship details to the Malay form was largely dropped from investigations though the similarities between Fijian and Dravidian kinship continue to be investigated in contemporary anthropology. Fison, however, showed little further interest in this connection as he became involved in Aboriginal kinship. Morgan's Systems was often overlooked in favour of his more accessible Ancient Society (1877) in which he extended his evolutionist investigations to polity, religion and other cultural questions. Yet the text was clearly important at the time for it showed an incredulous audience that kinship systems could reveal great similarity across geographic boundaries. While Morgan's text was an attempt to map alterity, it was premised on the notion of human unity. Unlike many other anthropological investigations of the period, filling out the 285-question schedule required a prolonged and intimate encounter between investigator and informant across cultural and linguistic divides. For Fison, the study and the findings proved a profound challenge to his view of human difference.


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Helen Gardner

Deakin University


(1.) This article has been greatly improved by the extensive comments and suggestions by the anonymous referee. I would also like to thank Dr Susan Blackwood for her editorial work, and the library staff at St Marks National Theological Centre, Canberra and the University of Rochester Library.

(2.) For the purposes of this article Oceania refers to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands, though I acknowledge this is a problematic nomenclature. For an analysis of the origin and original reach of the term see Douglas (2003:3).

(3.) While Stocking shows that the leading British anthropological theorists were not reliant on Darwinism for their analyses and tended to follow earlier strands of anthropological ideas, my reading of Morgan suggests a direct and unproblematic transfer of Darwin's theories to human society (Stocking 1987:173).

(4.) Morgan to Fison 20 Sep 1872 Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870-1881; PMB 1043. (I gratefully acknowledge permission from the University of Rochester Library to quote from these letters).

(5.) I am very grateful to Karl S. Kabelac who forwarded a copy of the 1860 pamphlet to me from the University of Rochester Library.

(6.) This is an early example, with significant ramifications, of what Terrell, Hunt and Gosden (1997) described as the "Myth of the Primitive Isolate'.

(7.) On this point I disagree with George Stocking, who claims that Fison's 'aggressive ethnocentrism was characteristic of so many of Methodist missionary conferes' (1995: 17). Fison was a confident example of a few younger missionaries of this period who. buoyed by the developing racialism of science and dismayed by the shortcomings of the Pacific congregations, were debating with their older colleagues the question of whether their converts were capable of receiving the Word of God. (On a similar debate in Samoa in the early 1870s see Gardner 2006a:44).

(8.) Lorimer Fison to sisters, Lakeba 17 Mar 1867. Papers on Fiji 1865-1868, PMB (Pacific Manuscripts Bureau), 26.

(9.) Lorimer Fison to sisters. Lakeba 17 Mar 1867. Papers on Fiji 1865-1868. PMB 26.

(10.) Fison to sisters, 7 Dec 1869. Letterbook: No.2, 10 Aug 1869-25 Oct 1870; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(11.) Fison to sisters, 7 Dec 1869, Fison to Goldwin Smith, 18 Dec 1869. Letterbook: No.2. 10 Aug 1869-25 Oct 1870: PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(12.) While Fison sought informants through colonial newspapers most data were gathered through missionary contacts and colonial administrators: his Letterbooks list at least 25 correspondents on kinship prior to his partnership with A. W. Howitt. L. Fison. Letterbooks 2 and 3, PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(13.) Fison to Osborne, 16 Dec 1869. Fison to Hamilton, 31 Dec 1869, Fison to Brown, I Jan 1870. Fison to Rabone, 1 Jan 1870. Letterbook: No.2. 10 Aug 1869-25 Oct 1870: PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(14.) Fison to Rabone, 1 Dec 1869. Letterbook: No.2, 10 Aug 1869-25 Oct 1870; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(15.) Fison to Tait. 25 Dec 1869: Fison to Rooney, 15 Jan 1870. 13 May 1871; Fison to Rowe, 3 Mar 1870, 21 Mar 1871.5 Oct 1871. PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(16.) Fison to Clarkson. 14 Jan 1871. Letterbook: no. 3, 27 Oct 1870-Mar 1873; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(17.) Fison to Smith, 18 Dec 1869. Letterbook; No.2, 10 Aug 1869-25 Oct 1870: PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(18.) Fison to Smith, 26 Mar 1870. Letterbook; No.2, 10 Aug 1869-25 Oct 1870; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(19.) The first letter from Morgan to Fison was dated 19 Aug 1870, in which Morgan acknowledged the receipt of the Rewa and Tongan schedules. The next was a year later 31 Oct 1871 after Morgan returned from his journey to Europe. On 17 Mar 1873 Morgan mentioned the dispatch of a second copy of Systems to Fison after the first, posted in 1871, had failed to arrive. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870-1881; PMB 1043.

(20.) The memoranda which Fison wrote up on the schedules he had filled are spread throughout his letterbooks undated, though they were clearly written to accompany subsequent letters to Morgan.

(21.) Fison to Morgan, 9 Dec 1870. Letterbook; No.2, 10 Aug 1869-25 Oct 1870: PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(22.) See Systems, 480.

(23.) Fison to Morgan 16 Dec 1872. Letterbook: No.3, 27 Oct 1870 Mar 1873; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(24.) Morgan to Fison, 19 Aug 1870. Correspondence from Lewis Henry Morgan and some others, 1870-1881: PMB 1043.

(25.) Fison to Morgan, 9 Dec 1870. Letterbook; No.3, 27 Oct 1870-Mar 1873; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(26.) Fison to Britton, 16 Dec 1870. Letterbook; No.3, 27 Oct 1870 Mar 1873; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(27.) Fison to Rabone 12 Dec 1870. Letterbook; No.3, 27 Oct 1870-Mar 1873: PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(28.) Fison to Rabone, 21 Mar 1870. Letterbook; No.3, 27 Oct 1870-Mar 1873; PMB 1039-Reel 2.

(29.) Lorimer Fison 'Circular letter with accompanying schedule' 6 Mar 1871. New South Wales Pamphlets, State Library of Victoria, vol. 31.
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