It was formerly thought that “totemism” and real “gentile organization” prevailed over all of North America. But it Social organization, customs, &c. now appears that in several sections of the country such beliefs and institutions were unknown, and that even within the limits of one and the same stock one tribe did, while another did not, possess them. Matriarchal ideas and the corresponding tribal institutions were also once regarded as the primal social condition of all Indian tribes, having been afterwards in many cases replaced by patriarchal ideas and institutions. Since the appearance of Morgan's famous monograph on Ancient Society (New York, 1878) and his Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity in the Human Family (Washington, 1871), the labours of American ethnologists have added much to our knowledge of the sociology of the American Indians. Forms of society among these Indians vary from the absolute democracy of the Athabaskan Ten‘a of Alaska, among whom, according to Jetté (Congr. int. d. Amér., Quebec, 1886), there exist “no chiefs, guides or masters,” and public opinion dominates (“every one commands and all obey, if they see fit”), to the complicated systems of some of the tribes of the North Pacific coast regions, with threefold divisions of chiefs, “nobles,” and “common people” (sometimes also, in addition, slaves), secret and “totemic” organizations, religious societies, sexual institutions (“men's houses,” &c.), and other like divisions; and beyond this to the development along political and larger social lines of alliances and confederations of tribes (often speaking entirely different languages) which have played an important role in the diffusion of primitive culture, such as the Powhatan confederacy of Virginia and the Abnaki confederacy of the North Atlantic region; the confederacy of the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi of the Great Lakes; the Huron confederacy of Ontario; the Dakota alliance of the north-west; the Blackfoot confederacy of the Canadian north-west; the Caddoan confederacy of the Arkansas region; the Creek confederacy of the South Atlantic country. The acme of federation was reached in the great “League of the Iroquois,” whose further development and expansion were prevented by the coming of the Europeans and their conquest of primitive North America. According to Morgan (League of the Iroquois, New York, 1851) and Hale (Iroquois Book of Rites, 1881), who have written about this remarkable attempt, by federation of all tribes, to put an end to war and usher in the reign of universal peace, its formation under the inspiring genius of Hiawatha took place about 1459. But J. N. B. Hewitt, himself an Iroquois, offers reasons (Amer. Anthrop., 1892) for believing that the correct date of its founding lies between 1559 and 1570.
and secret societies, nor do they seem to have ever possessed them. This may also be said of some of the Salishan tribes, though others of the same stock have complicated systems. The Klamath Indians (Lutuamian stock) “are absolutely ignorant of the gentile or clan system as prevalent among the Haida, Tlingit and Eastern Indians of North America; matriarchate is also unknown among them; every one is free to marry within or without the tribe, and the children inherit from the father” (Gatschet). In all parts of California indeed, according to Kroeber (Handbook of Amer. Inds., 1907, pt. i. p. 191), “both totemism and a true gentile organization were totally lacking.” Nor does it appear that either personal or communal totemism is a necessary attribute of clan and gentile organizations where such do exist. The Heiltsuk of British Columbia have animal totems, while the Kwakiutl do not, although both these tribes belong to the same Wakashan stock. Among the Iroquoian tribes, according to Hewitt (Handbook, p. 303), the primary unit of social and political organization, termed in Mohawk ohwachira, is “the family, comprising all the male and female progeny of a woman and of all her female descendants in the female line and of such other persons as may be adopted into the ohwachira.” The head of the ohwachira is “usually the oldest woman in it,” and it “never bears the name of a tutelary or other deity.” The clan was composed of one or more of such ohwachiras, being “developed apparently through the coalescence of two or more ohwachiras having a common abode.” From the clan or gens developed the government of the tribe, and out of that the Iroquois confederation.
The power of the chief varied greatly among the North American aborigines, as well as the manner of his selection. Among the Eskimo, chiefs properly understood hardly have existed; nearly everywhere the power of all sorts of chiefs (both war and peace) was limited and modified by the restraints of councils and other advisers. Age, wealth, ability, generosity, the favour of the shaman, &c., were qualifications for the chieftainship in various parts of the continent. Women generally seem to have had little or no direct voice in government, except that they could (even among some of the Athabaskan tribes) sometimes become chiefs, and, among the Iroquois, were represented in councils, had certain powers and prerogatives (including a sort of veto on war), &c. Many tribes had permanent peace-chiefs and temporary war-chiefs. According to Hewitt (Handb. of Amer. Inds., 1907, pt. i. p. 264), “In the Creek confederation and that of the Iroquois, the most complex aboriginal government north of Mexico, there was, in fact, no head chief. The first chief of the Onondaga federal roll acted as the chairman of the federal council, and by virtue of his office he called the federal council together. With this all pre-eminence over the other chiefs ended, for the governing power of the confederation was lodged in the federal council. The federal council was composed of the federal chiefs of the several component tribes; the tribal council consisted of the federal chiefs and sub-chiefs of the tribe.” The greatest development of the power of the chief and his tenure of office by heredity seems to have occurred among the Natchez and certain other tribes of the lower Mississippi and Gulf region. Among the Plains tribes, in general, non-inheritance prevailed, and “any ambitious and courageous warrior could apparently, in strict accordance with custom, make himself a chief by the acquisition of suitable property and through his own force of character” (Hewitt).
Among the North American aborigines the position of woman and her privileges and duties varied greatly from the usually narrow limits prescribed by the Athabaskans, according to Morice (Congr. int. d. Amér., Quebec, 1906), to the socially high status reached among some of the Iroquoian tribes in particular. In the North Pacific coast region the possession of slaves is said to have been a cause of a relatively higher position of woman there than obtained among neighbouring tribes. The custom of adoption both of children and captives also resulted advantageously to woman. The role and accomplishments of woman in primitive North America are treated with some detail in Mason's Woman's Share in Primitive Culture (1894). The form of the family and the nature of marriage varied considerably among the North American aborigines, as also did the ceremonies of courtship and the proceedings in divorce, &c. With some tribes apparently real purchase of brides occurred, but in many cases the seeming purchase turns out to be merely “a ratification of the marriage by means of gifts.” Great differences in these matters are found within the limits of one and the same stock (e.g. Siouan). Female descent, e.g., prevailed among the Algonkian tribes of the south-east but not among those of the north and west; and the case of the Creeks (Muskogian) shows that female descent is not necessarily the concomitant of a high social status of woman. Among the Zuñi, where the man is adopted as a son by the father of his wife, “she is thus mistress of the situation; the children are hers, and she can order the husband from the house should occasion arise” (Lowie and Farrand). With many tribes, however, the husband could divorce his wife at will, but Farrand and Lowie in their discussion of Indian marriage (Handb. of Amer. Inds., 1907, pt. i. p. 809) report on the other hand the curious fact that among the Wintun of California “men seldom expel their wives, but slink away from home, leaving their families behind.” In the case of divorce, the children generally go with the mother. From a survey of the available data Lowie and Farrand conclude that “monogamy is thus found to be the prevalent form of marriage throughout the continent,” varied from to polygamy, where wealth and other circumstances dictated it. In California, e.g., polygamy is rare, while with some of the Plains tribes it was quite common. Here again differences of note occurred within the same stock, e.g. the Iroquois proper could not have more than one wife, but the Huron Indian could. The family itself varied from the group of parents and children to the larger ones dictated by social regulations among the eastern tribes with clan organizations, and the large “families” found by Swanton (Amer. Anthrop., 1905) among certain tribes of the North Pacific coast, where relations and “poor relations,” servants and slaves entered to swell the aggregate. Exogamy was widely prevalent and incest rare. Cousin-marriages were frequently tabooed.
With many of the North American aborigines the giving of the name, its transference from one individual to another, its change by the individual in recognition of great events, achievements, &c., and other aspects of nominology are of significance in connexion with social life and religious ceremonies, rites and superstitions. The high level attained by some tribes in these matters can be seen from Miss Fletcher's description of “A Pawnee Ritual used when changing a Man's Name” (Amer. Anthrop., 1899). Names marked epochs in life and changed with new achievements, and they had often “so personal and sacred a meaning,” that they were naturally enough rendered “unfit for the familiar purposes of ordinary address, to a people so reverently inclined as the Indians seem to have been.” The period of puberty in boys and girls was often the occasion of elaborate “initiation” ceremonies and rites of various kinds, some of which were of a very trying and even cruel character. Ceremonial or symbolic “killings,” “new-births,” &c., were also in vogue; likewise ordeals of whipping, isolation and solitaryconfinement, “medicine”-taking, physical torture, ritual bathings,