chapter  2
20 Pages

Adolescence in Primitive and Modern Society

To MANY thinkers the primitive as opposed to the civilized or sophisticated man is one who is close to nature, close to the raw materials of life. Such a primitive man is supposed to recognize the vital importance of birth, puberty, marriage, and death, and to surround these crises with a wealth of ceremonial beneficial to mankind. These points of sharp significance to the individual are believed to be beautifully muffled by elaborate forms which enable the individual as a member of the social group to make terms with life and death, in a way in which we, less socialized, less primitive, cannot do. Although it is true that from the mass of recorded practice of primitive peoples it is possible to find many illustrations of such rituals, a wider survey of primitive societies does not bear it out. Some primitive peoples are as arbitrary as ourselves in the construction of patterns which ignore the more obvious facts of life and death, and superimpose man-made definitions of the life cycle. This applies not only to puberty but also to primitive attitudes towards paternity, towards birth, towards death. So among the Todas of India, where one woman is taken to wife by a group of brothers, paternity is established by a ceremony, performed usually by the oldest brother. This ceremony determines the paternity of all subsequent children until a new aspirant to social fatherhood performs the same ceremony in his turn. Children are sometimes considered as the offspring of a man who has been dead ten years, because before his death he ceremonially assumed fatherhood. A similar overlay of physical facts, which, though known, go socially unacknowledged, is found in many societies which practice infanticide. The child is not regarded as a member of the social group, to be jealously defended against misfortune, simply because it is delivered from its mother's womb. Rather it must wait upon a social recognition of its existence; until that is given, to kill it is

And this was in a culture where women were secluded at menstruation throughout their lives, so acute was the dread of this uncanny state.