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Lesu

( Originally Published 1957 )



In Dobu, fidelity to the marital partner is expected. In Melanesian Lesu, on the contrary, extramarital "affairs" are an acknowledged custom, and a person who does not avail himself of this privilege is considered abnormal. Powdermaker reports that "A young married woman without lovers would be in the same social position as a young girl in our society who never has any beaux or is never invited to parties." (42) Most women of middle age are unable to remember the number of their lovers. The attitudes of husbands and wives toward these affairs of their mates varies. Complacency is the rule, but there are cases of jealousy resulting in fights between the wife and the husband's mistress, and between the husband and the wife's lover. The question of what kind of emotional disturbance is expressed in these jealousies is recognized by Powdermaker. Is the jealousy, for example, an expression of "intense love and a resulting desire for complete and sole possession . . ." or is it a symptom, rather, of a feeling of inadequacy, or perhaps of injured pride, on the part of the jealous persons?

Robert Briffault has said that there is little evidence, among primitives, of sex jealousy as a desire for exclusive possession of a particular individual. (5) The jealousy of the savage shows, he thinks, no more than fear of loss of a woman as a piece of property, a fear at once removed, for example, if "another woman or the price of one" is in prospect. No personal attachment is involved. But jealousy of this kind, among ourselves, may be far more than resentment of an invasion upon property rights, to say the least. Edward Sapir believes that "Sex jealousy, in its purest form, is essentially a form of grief, while the combative feeling aroused by theft or other invasion of one's sovereignity is of course nothing but anger. Grief and anger may be intermingled but only a shallow psychologist will identify them." He adds that "the lover who is too noble to be jealous has always been justly suspected by mankind of being no lover at all." Doubtless feelings of inadequacy may also be present, but the basic emotional response to loss of this kind is grief, and the threat of loss is linked to anxiety.

While the meaning of jealousy among the people of Lesu is not fully clear from the behavior reported, there are facts that seem significant. Since extramarital sex activity is socially approved and accepted, it seems unlikely that the exercise of the privilege by one member of a marital pair would reflect any loss of prestige upon the other, or give occasion for feelings of in-adequacy. The question, since it concerns the emotional relationship within marriage, is not of direct bearing on our study except so far as an inference might be made concerning the emotions of the courtship period. The investigator tells us, however, that apart from the affection that develops in the course of married living, there is also "love" in Lesu, "or what-ever we call that group of sentiments which surround the biological need for intercourse," and that the obsessive thinking and dreaming of the enamored one differs little here from what it is elsewhere in the world. A native tale, illustrating "attachment to a love," is told of two women who committed suicide after the death of their lovers. In Lesu too, perhaps, there is amorous emotion without benefit of sex denial.



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