The questions of great anthropological interest are whether the savages of the old times loved; what kind of love and sexual relations they had; and how they loved each other.

Cultural anthropology of the 20th century has made tremendous progress in the study of love in many remote tribal societies of the world (Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Despite these great advances, we still have limited knowledge of how people in societies without the influence of modern civilizations lived and loved.

We have especially limited access to the knowledge of the previous centuries. The old times of savages have been increasingly disappearing from our reach. So, the availability of the old archives of love studies from the past is especially precious.

Let us explore those old archival treasures of love scholarship (Finck, 1887/2019).

Who Are Those Strangers to Love?

Here are some of the interesting evolutionary observations of Henry Finck:

“In passing from animals to human beings we find at first not only no advance in the sexual relations, but a decided retrogression. Among some species of birds, courtship and marriage are infinitely more refined and noble than among the lowest savages; and it is especially in their treatment of females, both before and after mating, that not only birds but all animals show an immense superiority over primitive man; for male animals only fight among themselves, and never maltreat the females.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 55).

The Surprising Evolutionary Anomaly in the Sexual Relations of Savages

The author explained this evolutionary anomaly in sexual relations in the following way:

“The intellectual power and emotional horizon of animals are limited; but in those directions in which Natural Selection has made them specialists, they reach a high degree of development, because inherited experience tends to give to their actions an instinctive or quasi-instinctive precision and certainty. Among primitive men, on the other hand, reason begins to encroach more on instinct, but yet in such a feeble way as to make constant blunders inevitable: thus proving that strong instincts, combined with a limited intellectual plasticity, are a safer guide in life than a more plastic but weak intellect minus the assistance of stereotyped instincts.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 55).

What about Romantic Love of Savages?

According to anthropological observations from those times, the sexual relations and emotional life of savages were too crude to be called “romantic”:

“If neither intellect nor instinct guide the primitive man to well-regulated marital relations, such as we find among many animals, so again his emotional life is too crude and limited to allow any scope for the domestic affections. Inasmuch as, according to Sir John Lubbock, gratitude, mercy, pity, chastity, forgiveness, humility, are ideas or feelings unknown to many or most savage tribes, we should naturally expect that such a highly-compounded and ethereal feeling as Romantic Love could not exist among them. How could Love dwell in the heart of a savage who baits a fish-hook with the flesh of a child; who eats his wife when she has lost her beauty and the muscular power which enabled her to do all his hard work; who abandons his aged parents, or kills them, and whose greatest delight in life is to kill an enemy slowly amid the most diabolic tortures?”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 55).

Were These Romantic Courtships?

As it appears, romantic relationships among savages were not very romantic:

“Or how could a primitive girl love a man whose courtship consists in knocking her on the head and carrying her forcibly from her own to his tribe? A man who, after a very brief period of caresses, neglects her, takes perhaps another and younger wife, and reduces the first one to the condition of a slave, refusing to let her eat at his table, throwing her bones and remains, as to a dog, or even driving her away and killing her, if she displeases him? These are extreme cases, but they are not rare; and in a slightly modified form they are found throughout savagedom.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).

The Sentiments of Love Appeared to Be Unknown by Savages

Henry Finck concluded that “Love” was a sentiment unknown to savages. And it was often mentioned in the works of anthropologists and tourists of the 19th century. He cited several observations and comments on this. Here are some of them.

When Ploss remarks that the lowest savages “know as little about marriage relations as animals; still less do they know the feeling we call Love,” he did a great injustice to animals.

As the sociologist Letourneau remarked: “Among the Cafres Cousas, according to Lichtenstein, the sentiment of love does not constitute a part of marriage.”

In speaking of a tribe of the Gabon, Du Chaillu wrote, “The idea of love, as we understand it, appears to be unknown to this tribe.”

Speaking of the polygamous tribes of Africa, Monteiro wrote:

“The negro knows not love, affection, or jealousy…. In all the long years I have been in Africa I have never seen a negro manifest the least tenderness for or to a negress…. I have never seen a negro put his arm round a woman’s waist, or give or receive any caress whatever that would indicate the slightest loving regard or affection on either side. They have no words or expressions in their language indicative of affection or love.”

(cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).

Spencer commented on this passage, “This testimony harmonises with testimonies cited by Sir John Lubbock, to the effect

  • that the Hottentots “are so cold and indifferent to one another that you would think there was no such thing as love between them”;
  • that among the Koussa Kaffirs there is “no feeling of love in marriage”;
  • that in Yariba, “a man thinks as little of taking a wife as of cutting an ear of corn—affection is altogether out of the question.” (cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).

A Couple of Words in Evidence of Love among Savages of the Past

Winwood Reade suggested an alternative view on savage love. He wrote to Darwin that the West Africans

“are quite capable of falling in love, and of forming tender, passionate, and faithful attachments.”

The anthropologist Waitz, speaking of Polynesia, wrote that

“examples of real passionate love are not rare, and on the Fiji Islands it has happened that individuals married against their will have committed suicide; although this has only happened in the higher classes.”

As Henry Finck noted,

“in these cases we are left in doubt as to whether the reference is to Conjugal or to Romantic Love; conjugal attachment, being of earlier growth than Romantic Love, because the development of the latter was retarded by the limited opportunities for prolonged Courtship and free Choice.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).


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