1. The Horror of Incest

Freud begins with a look at similarities and differences between the psychology of primitive people as revealed by social anthropology and the psychology of neurotics, as revealed by psychoanalysis. Since the aborigines of Australia were thought to be the most backward and youthful of primitive people, Freud cites them in many of his examples. Of particular relevance, whilst we find them free of morals and rules in many areas of their society, in areas of sexual activity, they are most scrupulous and careful to avoid incestuous sexual relations. In place of religion and social institution, they have 'totemism' which subdivides each tribe into various clans with a different 'totem'. As a rule these totems are normally animals and rarely plants, and an aborigine's relation to his totem is the basis of all his social obligations - overriding both his tribal membership and his blood relationships. Most importantly, "there is a law against persons of the same totem having sexual relations with one another and consequently against their marrying." The regular penalty for violation of this is death, regardless of whether the couple were blood relatives, resulted in children etc., or not. This is reflected in the fact that an aboriginal man uses the term 'brother' and 'sister' not only for children of his parents but also for all those in his 'totem' clan. This in turn throws light on the origin of totemic exogamy. It appears, that these namings originate from the times of group marriages, when it was indeed likely that all members of a totem clan were related by blood, and as such, totemic exogamy was a good way of preventing this group incest. So it is worth noting that whilst aboriginals' horror of incest seems unusually great, they are probably liable to greater temptation to it and for that reason need fuller protection.

Further to their horror of incest, Freud looks at their behaviour with near relatives, which often involves customs of 'avoidance'. For instance, a boy's social intercourse with his mother and sister, in the New Hebrides, is restricted such that they may not meet nor contact, and avoid the birth house once a certain age has been reached etc. Similar customs are described in New Caledonia, New Britain, Fiji, New Mecklenburg, Sumatra and other countries. The most common avoidance, though, is found to be that restricting a man's intercourse with his mother- in-law - explained by a Zulu woman as 'it is not right that he should see the breasts which suckled his wife.'

It is also interesting that this relationship in the western world is also a delicate point, seen by Freud as 'ambivalent' composed of conflicting hostile and affectionate impulses. So, whilst the horror of incest displayed by savages has long been recognised as such, Freud emphasizes his idea that this is essentially an infantile feature, revealing a striking agreement with the mental life of neurotic patients. Freud proposes that psychoanalysis has taught us that a boy's earliest choices of objects for his love are incestuous and that those objects are forbidden ones - his mother and his sister. Furthermore, as he grows up he liberates himself from this incestuous attraction, a neurotic on the other hand has either failed to liberate himself (inhibition) or returns to these infantile conditions (regression). So the importance of a child's incestuous longings towards his parents, in neurosis, are still regarded by savage peoples as immediate perils against which the most severe measures of defence must be enforced.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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