Clans & Totemism

The Clan System in Detail,

Clans as Exogomous Marital Units,

Economic function of Clans, Cutlural Functions,

Women and the Female Clans , Clan Impersonation, Destruction of the Clans in Colonial times



The People
The Land







Daily Life




In Pre-Columbian times, reverence for animals existed alongside the all-pervasive totemism, which made Bergonia unique among the world's cultures.  Generally totemism divides society into co-equal divisions, each one marked by its mystical relationship or kinship with a particular plant or animal. 

Many tribal cultures around the world have totemistic clan systems, where every member belongs to a clan, often represented by an animal totem. But in Bergonia the clans not only survived the Neolithic transition into the agriculture era, but even survived the transition into urban culture. The caste system makes India unique among the world's cultures; likewise the clan system was unique to classical Bergonian culture.   

Hunting and gathering cultures throughout the world think totemistically.  For these small cultures totemism provided a system of horizontal stratification-- a society divided into multiple groups all equal to one another.  Just as the natural world (to them) consisted of equal animal brothers, so did the human world consist of equal clans.

Totemism in Eurasia withered and died after these societies took up agriculture in the great Neolithic Revolution.  Farming allowed the population to grow, and the societies transmuted.  Kings replaced tribal chiefs, and professional priests replaced the shaman.  With kings (with attending armies and bureaucracies) and priests, work became specialized.  The population stratified into unequal vertical layers-- in other words, unequal social classes. 

Perhaps the transmutation from hunting-gathering to agriculture necessarily entailed the replacement of clans with social classes.  The Roman "tribes" in the early days of the Republic dissolved as differences between Patricians and Plebeians classes crystallized. However, in Bergonia the totemistic clans persisted into the agricultural era.  Rather than dissolving as social classes crystallized, the clans became the organizing principle for all society.  This happened in some part because the banda warrior class that came to dominate society remained strictly organized along clan lines.  This also happened because the Prophet Ierecina explicitly sanctified the clan system and insisted on its observances.  Bu the clan system remained strongest among the peasants-- each village was populated by people of the same clan.

Only the hunter walked the bridge of action between clan animals and men, and in Bergonia the hunter in legendary and anthropological history became the banda warrior.  Hunting rituals, at least for the warrior class, remained essential to the initiation of boys into manhood. All (male) initiation rites were administered by the Clan brotherhood in clan lodges.  Over time tribal warriors organized into bands, and then into permanent associations, then militias, and finally standing armies. regiments, according to clan affiliation.  at every stage of this development, the warriors steadfastly grouped and sorted themselves according to clan affiliation. Generally, and certainly preferably, Bear warriors fought and bivouacked only with Bear warriors, and fight with a Bear commander.    An army might have a Bear regiment, a Hawk regiment and a Rattlesnake regiment, who all fought bravely together but still segregated.

Tradition has recognized 31 clans, each carrying the image and name of a wild animal-- some birds (e.g. eagle, hawk, heron), two insects (spider, mantis), a reptile (snapping turtle), no fish, the rest mammals.  None are domesticated animals.  One clan bears the image of the Wild-Sheep (the Ram) of the mountains, while Bergonians  domesticated a smaller cousin three millennia ago.  All canine species, according to the clan-logic, are domesticated, but there is no Vishget clan, and the vishgret is a wild dog.  

The clans never functioned as occupation-defining caste, but in many instances functioned as "negative-caste."  For example, tradition insured that Wild-Sheep clansmen never became shepherds, Deer clansmen never kept deerskins, and Spider clansmen never worked in rope or textiles.  More inexplicably, Bear clansmen never work as metallurgists, and Rattlesnake clansmen never work as porters.  Neither of the two Monkey clans ever worked in timbering or wood working.

Marriage:  The device that thoroughly guaranteed the persistence of the clan system into agricultural and urban times was the ironclad Rule of Clan Exogamy, which prohibited two people of the same clan from marrying.  This is the rule that the Prophet Ierecina sanctified.  Time carved this rule deep into the bedrock of the Bergonian psyche.  People of the same clan who married committed incest and suffered banishment.  Poems and "laments" (an ever-popular genre of song) repeat this theme again and again: a young man and a maid spy one another and become smitten with each other's beauty, but then sadly learn that they belong to the same clan.  But in the three thousand years of Bergonian literature, not a single poem or story survives which portrays two lovers of the same clan sympathetically.  There are stories about heroes and stalwarts who suddenly fall into illicit love-- but the stories portray them as madmen, craven, as having voluntarily departed the pale of Gods and men--self-banishment.  To the Bergonian mind, the tragedy is that even good people can fall into madness and corruption.

* * *

June 1997

The Clans in Detail 

The clan system stands out as the most distinctive feature of Pre-Columbian Bergonian culture. just as the Caste system is the most prominent feature of Hindu society.   In Pre-Columbian times the clan system was the mortar that held together the brick, much as the caste system gave sociological cohesion to Hindu society.  Apparently most--but not all-- the Neolithic cultures in prehistoric Bergonia incorporated stringent clan systems.  In Kuan culture the bonds of the clan system loosened, but in Ancita and other Nacateca cultures, the clan system engendered a number of mandatory rules.  These rules passed into the body of Ierecina's teaching, so that when Ancita warriors swept eastward they carried with them these rules, so Shufranti religion buttressed the clan system. 

Tribal totem and clan systems in other parts of the world have not survived the advent of Neolithic civilization.  Tribes and clans persisted into the early days of Roman civilization.  But because Bergonia’s prophet explicitly endorsed totemistic clans, his religion made clans a part of the new social order it formed. Thus, as Shufrantei civilization coalesced and took hold from west to east, the clan system became integral.

As Bergonian civilization matured over the centuries, with waves of social, cultural and religious transmutations, the clan system persisted as its durable bedrock and  did  not suffer significant diminishment until the European onslaught.  The disastrous waves of epidemic disease nearly  destroyed all Bergonian institutions, including the clan system.  After disease killed off most of the native population, the  Christian  priests  and missionaries inveighed against the clan system, which they saw as a feature of native religion.  Nevertheless, the clan system survived the disastrous 1500's in truncated form, loosing its mandatory characteristic and  hence many of its powerful features.  But, though modified, it has managed to  survive to the present.

Similar clan systems existed in many tribal societies throughout the world.  Clan systems also existed  in archaic pre-industrial cultures, such as Aztec, ancient Egyptian, and Arabic.   However, none of these systems dominated their societies to the same degree as the Bergonian, and none proved as durable, with strength sufficient to survive the Industrial Revolution and the attendant urbanization to the present day.  It is a peculiar example of how a prehistoric cultural trait has been adaptable to many social changes, in perhaps a way similar to Hindu castes. 

The clans took their names from wild animal totems.  The ten most common names were: Preba, Boar, Bear, Hawk, Spider, Deer, Fox, Eagle, Rattlesnake, and Raccoon.  The clans adopted mostly carnivorous animals, but some distinctly herbivorous.  No clan has ever adopted a tame animal as its totem, and none adopted fish, save among the Pasan and Svegon, peoples marginal to Shufrantei culture.  Among the Svegon, who lived on the islands of the Sargaso Sea, the most common clan names were: shark, dolphin, hawk, preba, and gull.  Among the Minidun and Nacateca people, who comprised Shufrantei civilization, 32 clans existed.  32 holds significance in Bergonian numerology, because of the significance of the numbers 4 and 8.

Individuals, both men and women, inherited their clan membership from their fathers, as well as their surnames.  They perceived their clan as their extended families, and  all  the members of a single clan regarded each other as "cousins."  From this fundamental perception came  the ironclad rule that one must marry outside the clan.  To marry someone of the  same clan  amounted  to incest.  While clan incest did not produce the same degree of  anathema  as brother-sister  or  parent-child incest, it sufficed to evoke outrage, scandal  and  criminal sanctions.

The clan as also served important economic and cultural functions, both in  terms of mutual aid, training youth and collectively maintaining the rituals of the life cycle. 

1.  The Marital Unit

In Pre-Columbian Bergonia the Clans operated to determine who may marry whom.  This rule applied strictly all throughout Bergonian history until the plagues scrambled everything.   Their violation incurred an anathema, since everyone universally regarded as incestuous any union between two members of  the same clan.  The rule laid down a simple bar: one could not marry one who belongs to the same clan, but one could marry any person of any other clan.  The strictness of the rule declared  that one could not even sleep with one of the same clan. All persons, whether male or female, of the same clan recognize each other as "cousins."  Any woman whom a man accosted or who needed protection could expect help from any nearby clan brother, no matter that they had never seen each other before. 

If  a man and woman engaged in flirtation with one another, the most basic Bergonian common sense required that the man swiftly proclaim his clan identity.  Etiquette required that the man directly proclaim his clan affiliation when he introduces himself, and etiquette also forbade him from directly inquiring as to her clan.  If the woman found that the man belonged to her clan, she had to acknowledge him as a clan brother immediately after he identified himself, in order to prevent any further development of mutual interest.   However, this etiquette produced an interesting devise which could promote flirtation as well as halt it  in appropriate  instances.   After the man casually mentioned his clan, the woman could remain a discrete silence, which signaled to him that she belonged to a different--  hence eligible--clan, but simply had no immediate interest in him.  If she declared her clan identity, then the man could infer that she might have some interest in pursing him.  If she remained silent, the man could ply his charms until she finally disclosed her clan.  If, after a while, she still resolutely refused to disclose her clan, etiquette required the man prudently back off.  A bold man might continue the pressure, expecting  the woman to disclose her clan if she were of the same clan as he, since woman often would not want a man of the same clan to invest of himself emotionally or make a fool of himself.  In any event even a marginally polite man would refrain from asking the woman  for her clan identity, and if he did, the woman could write him off as an uncouth bore.

The clan system placed women in a quandary.  Since the clan system required exogamy, a woman when she married left the village or neighborhood of her birth clan to take up residence with her husband and his fellow clansmen.  From time to time she would return to her father's home and join in the clan rites, but for the most part she was expected to support her husband and his family in all its endeavors, including expression of clan affiliation.  Indeed in every neighborhood and every village, of the married woman had come from somewhere else.  Thus,  it was often said that a woman had two clans, and people  occasionally  asked the identity  of  her  "married clan" and her "real clan."  A married woman  raised  her daughters with the foreknowledge that men from other villages or neighborhood in the town would  come and woo her daughters away.  She might contrive to introduce a daughter to a young man from her  home village, since the daughter was of her husband's-- and not her-- clan.  An old  proverb said that "a happy crone returns to the hearth of her father to visit her daughter."  A corollary provided that "a  happy crone prepares her granddaughter's wedding," referring to the possibility that a woman could send her daughter back to her home village to marry a man, but that her very own mother would organize the wedding.  If this  practice  persisted over the course of several generations, then generations of women might forge a social bridge between two particular villages.

Sometimes  the  clan  system imposed an intolerable burden on a woman.   One  of  the most enduring Ancita myths tells of a war between two bands of feticinai.  All the warriors of a feticinai were invariably of the same clan, and they derived their esprit de corps  from  their common clan identity.  A feud between two feticinai then largely became a battle between two clans.   Before the outbreak of hostilities the woman had been raised in one clan and married a man from the other.  Now her husband's people fought against her  father's.   Tradition required her to stand with her husband, but she was heartbroken as her husband's brothers boasted  of  killing men whom she had known as children-- men of her  birth clan.   Her husband treated  her cruelly.  So, having overheard a plan for a new attack, she fled her village in the dead of  night and alerted her father's village.  But they refused to receive her, believing that she served her  husband, and hounded her until she left.  Her father shouted at her,  "If  a woman could act as you have, then no man could sleep soundly next to his wife."  When she returned, her husband did what she feared most-- he divorced her and cast her out.  "Repudiated by both husband and father, she became a woman without a clan.

While this tale-- and all the hundreds of variants spun over the centuries-- illustrates the worst aspect of the clan system for women, women also derived a measure of protection from it.   In many traditional societies, a husband virtually owned his wife and could do with her as he pleased, and her family would provide no aid.  In Bergonia the clan system discouraged any man from battering his wife.  If a woman fled her abusive husband and sought refuge with her fellow clansmen, they might seek redress.  A woman's brothers in particular would be quick in protecting  her.  Many times the husband's fellow clansmen defended him, and a whole scale feud  might commence, but more often the men of the two clans met,  traded accusations and threats, and then agreed to the termination of the marriage.  In  extreme  cases,  however, a battering husband's clansmen  would recognize a limit to their obligation  of  mutual aid and refuse to help him.  The saying went, "No man incurs honor in defending a coward who fights a woman."

The  clan system placed a woman at a distinct disadvantage in the realm of divorce.   If either party sought a divorce, the logic of the system required the woman to return to her clan.  But the logic of the system also dictated that the father raised his children--since they inherited his  clan  affiliation.   Only by remaining with their father could  children grow up with the necessary rites of passage.

2.  The Economic Unit

In typical peasant society the farmers lived in small villages.  In many of the villages all the residents were all of the same clan, but in most cases a villages might consist  of  residents belonging to two or even three or four different clans.  In such cases, the clans were nearly always had their own sections or neighborhoods.  Ownership of land was communal, not held communally  by  the entire village or by smaller family units, but by the clans of the villages.  Men of the same clan and the same village worked the same land, shoulder to shoulder, usually under the leadership of a single elder whom the married men of the group elected from among their own number.

In  more urban settings the clans usually dominated in small neighborhoods, or even  in single apartment buildings.   The  married men of a neighborhood in a  town  or  city usually collected together  and  formed a "local", called a -- or a --.  This was a "lodge" or a "local" which operated as a monthly or twice monthly meeting.  Sometimes  they obtained a common room where they could meet and play cards, gamble, smoke, and entertain.  If any of them  were  unemployed or in trouble, or if any of their families had difficulties,  the  solution could often  be found in the room.  A clan brother who had lost his house, his  savings  or  his job might received money, an offer of work or a place to stay.

One of more troublesome points of clan influence in modern times concern employment.  Small businesses in Bergonia have always tended to employ only members of the clan to which  the  owners belonged.  This form of discrimination has been nettlesome, but only to a minor  degree.   Men will take sides in a random  brawl according to clan lines, but for the most part people of different clans can and do work together, shoulder to shoulder.   Discrimination  on  the  basis of sex, race, religion  and age are in varying degrees held to be illegal in present day Bergonia, discrimination on the basis of clan affiliation is not, although some people who fancy themselves as "progressives" believe such  discrimination is bad.  In the 1700's and 1800's local officer holders and political bosses often  surrounded themselves with advisors and appointees of the same clan.  Crime gangs often  accept only persons of the same clan as members.  Such forms of clan-based patronage permeated ancient and medieval Bergonian history.  In those times people often referred to a particular city or town as a "hawk place" or a "bear place" according to the affiliation of the  local  leadership.  Fortunately, this tendency has faded in the past century.

3.  The Cultural Unit

In ancient  and medieval times one could always find clan "lodge" facilities in a city or town where the men and women of the same clan affiliation met for social gatherings, performance of the rituals and just to pass the time.  The lodges in peasant villages might amount to nothing more than simple sheds or one room houses.  In the cities the lodges might be what we would regard as storefronts.  Sometimes two or three clans would unit to acquire a shared lodge facility.  Cliques of rich city-dwellers of the same clan built grand halls, like private clubs.  A wandering Bergonian knew that when he arrived in a strange locality he could seek out the lodge of his clan and seek help, direction and rest.  Clan affinity made hospitality mandatory.

Weddings provided an occasion where two clans could come together to jointly perform their rites.   The woman's clan performed a rite, followed by the rite  of  the groom's clan.  Weddings  marked the great adhesion between clans, out of which social unity emerged.  The wedding itself became a metaphoric and functional expression of social integration.

Each clan had its own unique cultural markers, including its own rites for initiation,  its animal totem, its songs, chants, tattoos, and hand signals.  Each clan used standardized representation of the animal totem.  For example, the bear clan always portrayed the bear with one front paw upraised or with a fish in the bear's mouth, while the boar clan always shows the boar as red.  The cat clan showed the cat sitting or reclining, while the preba clan showed the great wild feline  leaping  or bringing down a deer.  The clans sometimes used secondary symbols.   The preba clan used a triangular symbol denoting a mountain.  The boar clan used a some  curving crescent reminiscent of the boar’s tusks.  The spider used a simple grid pattern suggestive of the woven web.  Each clan has it own set of songs which every member generally knew.  Some of these songs they sang only in initiation ceremonies, while more common ones the clan members used to open or close clan lodge meetings.  Every clan employed simple cheers and drinking ditties for fun.

The songs and other cultural markers provided great utility in dealing with strangers.  Two people who meet would inquire about one another's affiliation and, if they found they belonged to the same clan, they most likely demonstrated the fact to each other by singing a song  together  or  reciting a short verse typical of the clan.  This cemented the natural bond between them and then they could truly act as brothers. In earlier tims, when everyone wore a can tattoo, all anyone had to do was display their wrist.

The men of a clan had their own drinking songs and they often formed athletic teams to  engage teams of other clans in contests, such are running, wrestling, gambling, and mock warfare.  Occasionally, as happens with men, these contests escalated into bad temper, and  feuds and fights resulted.

Finally, when a man or a woman died the clansmen  attended to the cremation of the body.   Each clan had its own rite for the cremation, of course consistent with Shufrantei or Miradi norms, and after the local priest or priestess performed the standard religious rite, the clansmen stepped forward and performed their rite just before lighting thepyre.  As an example, if a man died in the presence of three strangers, and one of the surviving three learned that he and the newly deceased belonged to the same clan, he immediately understood that the responsibilities of disposing of the body, notifying the relatives and safeguarding the deceased's belongings all fell to him, while the other two could freely walk away.  This obligation attached, even  if the deceased and the survivor were complete strangers.

4.  The Life Ceremonies:

In traditional Bergonian life both boys and girls underwent certain  initiation  rites at various times in their lives.  The girls underwent certain rites determined by the traditions of the female clans.  Boys had their initiation rites at the hands of the "lodge" of the clan.  To this day, a boy's father paid for the rites which were held at the lodge or at  least  at  a place to which all the lodge members were invited to attend and participate. 

Males underwent several ritual rites of passage as they grew to manhood.   While universal custom dictated that all the youth experienced the same rites  with  the  same basic purpose  and schedule, each clan had its own ritual forms, with songs, intonations and dramas unique to the clan.  The close male relatives of the boy performed the rites along with a priest, and  only in the presence of other relatives.  For example, a family belonging to the  bear  clan would  for their boys perform several rites during the childhood of a male child  prescribed  by bear clan tradition. 

Every clan had for their boys a "Naming Rite" which occurred on the  boy's seventh birthday.  Women celebrated this rite with the men.  It usually involved a happy  early dinner where gifts were given to the boy, he was crowned with a garland, and  usually  a verse of prayer was chanted by the men and then a dance was done, with the boy put in  middle of  the room while the women joined hands and danced around the boy with all the men standing in  a larger ring outside clapping their hands, everyone singing. 

At the age of fourteen the boys had a "Wisdom Rite", where, in essence, the community celebrated the fourteen year olds.  The rite was held one time a year on Summer Day for all the boys turning fourteen in the year.   The men and the older boys celebrated this rite with the fourteen year olds without any females present.  In the afternoon, the women in the boy's family attended him in a special dinner and dressed him for the night's events. They teased him as they saw  him off.  They took him to the clan lodge house where all the men were waiting.   All the boys who turned fourteen in the current year were brought there on this one tumultuous night of the year. the women and the girls left, while the men and the boys engaged in the rite.  It was the first day that the boys could be allowed to attend a ceremony of the adult clansmen.   The main focus of the rite is the performance of the mythological epic of the clan, usually  performed by boys between the ages of fifteen and twenty, in which the myths of the clan are imparted.

Finally, at the age of  twenty-one, the boy on his birthday attended another lodge ceremony where the members confirmed him as a full adult member of the clan lodge.  This rite the Bergonians called the Blossoming.  Some men called it the "First  Kill," drawing an analogy to the carnivorous character of their clan totem.  He thereafter could vote and speak fully in the lodge proceedings.  The ceremony began with prayer.  Then the initiate took an oath of  loyalty to and love of the clan, and then elders together chanted a stylized standard describing the  virtuous  and strong qualities of the totemic animal.   The chanting provoked dancing.  Then everyone ate dinner.

The seven year old girls participated in a naming ceremony as well.  But at the age of fourteen the girls were taken off by the women of their female clan identification for their own rite celebrating puberty.

The Crime of Can Impersonation

Bergonians uniformly regarded impersonating a false affiliation a grave offense deserving severe punishment.  History and literature have no shortage of tales of  such fraud, usually employed in order to obtain information or further a crime of theft or deception.   One great criminal of the medieval age, Dhalitoc Nsutre, supposedly memorized every bit of clan lore for twenty-eight clans, and he used it to perpetrate great frauds.  Once, some Cat clan members uncovered him after he had cheated one of their brothers out of some gems.   They tracked him down and found him staying with some Boar clan members who believed he was one of them.  The Cat people challenged him in front of the Boar people, and a great argument ensued that threatened to escalate into a bloody fight.  But then arrived some Spider people who had also been tracking him for a similar offense.  The Boar people were so abashed that they turned on Nsutre and agreed among themselves that he probably had deceived them as well.  So they allowed the Cat and Spider people kill him.  In his last minutes Nsutre pleaded with the Boar people, but they no longer believed him and allowed him to go to his end.  The great irony sprang out of the fact that, by virtue of birth, he really belonged to the Boar Clan.  But the Boar people involved felt little remorse, because he had forfeited his Boar affiliation when he imitated the other clans. 

Such fraud produced grave insult to the offender's own clan-- by means of the fraud he showed a desire to abandonThis crime merited punishment by death or life slavery.  A peculiar form of torture sometimes attended a conviction for this offense.  If the offender had a clan tattoo on his arm or shoulder, the judge might order the tattoo removed, which meant either burning the tattoo off or cutting the skin away.   This the judge would  leave either to men of the offended clan or to the offender's own clan brothers.  The judge might order this torture to precede death.  In this symbolic fashion society rewarded the deceit by stripping the offender of his own clan affiliation, thus making  him less than a whole man.

5.  Women in the Clan System and the Female Clans:

As  members of the male-based clans, women had every right to expect  support  there

from in every matter.  A man was duty bound to fight for the honor and protection of a woman of  his  clan, even one who had long ago married and moved away.  Indeed, whenever a married  woman  found her honor affronted or, more serious, suffered from the crime of  rape or insult,  or  whenever she suffered intolerable abuse at the hands of her husband or his family, she had the clan as her chief resource.  Whenever she faced trouble  she  would  attempt  to return to her paternal home and call upon the male folk to avenge or protect her.   In  making the appeal she did not speak of familial bonds.  She stirred the men to her aid by  evoking the name of the clan. 

If the woman could not get back to her original home, where her brothers and blood cousins lived, she could seek out clan brothers-- men she did not know, men she had probably never seen before-- and demand their aid.  As custom demanded, the men felt the obligation to help.   As a practical matter, men rarely desired to shed blood on behalf of a clan sister they had never met before and held in no particular affection, but they would at least stand as her advocates in negotiation or litigation even if they refused to unsheathe their swords for her.  As a  last resort, if she demanded shelter from them, they would not dream of refusing her.  And then they had to defend her from any violent attempt by her husband's family to take her back.  However, women had their own separate clans, membership in  which  passed  through  the matrilineal line. 

Though women belonged to the animal clans every bit as much as the men,  their role within the system produced a higher degree of tension and estrangement.  Traditionally when a couple married, the wife followed her new husband home to live with  him  and his  people.  There she found a village, a manor or a neighborhood where all the men belonged to the same clan, along with all  the children, and where all the women  had disparate clan affiliations.  Thus  they lived removed from their "father" clans and lost the solace of clan rites which  men enjoyed all their lives.  Therefore marriage loosened the bonds of a woman's clan identity. 

Prevailing theory holds that historically the women devised the "lunar" or "little" clans as a way to ameliorate this estrangement.  Only women could belong to the  "little clans"  or "lunar clans," which formed an auxiliary clan structure.  The men had no role to play in these "little" clans and they had at bets only nominal membership in them which depended on their mother's membership.

The "lunar" or "little" clans took their names from flowers and trees, all named for plants, in contrast to the big clans which are all named for animals.  They included lily, sage, yarrow, lavender, jute, willow, oak, mistletoe and juniper.  Anthropologists have made much of the fact that few of the main clans have herbivorous clans, meaning that they do not have a food relationship with the totems of the "little" clans.  They have also commented on the connection of clan totems  based  on  plants  with functional utility for humans living in archaic culture and the women's gathering role in archaic society.  In the same manner, they link the animal totems of the patrilineal clans with the masculine hunting role prevailing in the same archaic society.

Bergonians called these the "little" clans, not because of any belittling sense of diminished stature, but because they included among their ranks only half of all the people.   People also called them "night" or "shadow" clans, partly because night forms the feminine counterpart to the masculine solar day, and partly because the women often held  their gatherings at night.  These organizations functioned as social clubs for women, where women, their sisters, and daughters and daughter's daughters all came together.  They had no trouble gathering in the cities, but in the countryside these women had to come together from different  villages, making  the gatherings difficult.  The women derived great value from these meetings, where men could not attend.  The women traded amongst themselves things they have made, such as embroidered goods, quilts, linens, and wreathes made from feathers and dried flowers.  They sang and danced, trading ribald jokes at the expense of the absent men.   These get-togethers occurred generally twice a year, usually on a date timed to a full moon, e.g. the first full moon after the first of the year, in other words the first full moon after the Festival of Lights.

Once a year, often around the festival of Tlemase, "Hearth Mother", all the families go to the homes of their matriarch.  All the granddaughters and daughters go visit the home of their oldest female relative for dinner.  They take with them their husbands and their children.   The husbands must obey a certain etiquette of subdued behavior and deference.  This means that while the women celebrate their reunion the men mill around with the husbands of the other  women, forming a group of men with disparate clan memberships, thus mirroring the alienated polyglot of the women in their own villages, manors and neighborhoods.  The men drink and gamble on the fringes of the group, and though often drinking and gamble produce a  rather  combustible combination, the occasion demands subdued behavior and the men nearly always abide.

Modern feminists and sociologists have made much of the  existence of the "little" clans, postulating that in an era of patriarchal domination and oppression, these clans provided women  with the  only way in which they could  manifest their activities.  However, these modern theoreticians overstate their cases to such an extent that they seem to suggest that the female  clans were subversive that grew as a rebellious reaction to the male clans.  In fact, all the available research shows that the "little" clans co-existed with the male clans since the very earliest  times.  They existed as a complimentary structure to the more public male clans and, in archaic society, they gave organization to the education of girls and young women by older women and for midwifery.  The traditional Bergonian man did not oppose the "little" clans.  Any suggestion that they were vehicles of rebellion would have struck him as strange.  He supported them and, when asked by the women, he would get his tools and repair the shed or the house in which they met.  Then he would accept a small cake as thanks and go off fishing.  

6.  Destruction of the Clans:  

The  great destruction of native institutions occasioned by the waves of plague and the onslaught of Europeans almost destroyed the clan system.  In fact, many natives ceased  paying any  attention  to their clan affiliations.  Once they ceased caring, they neglected  the  initiation ceremonies and then failed to impart the clan identity to their children.  The Catholic missionaries  adamantly fought to suppress clan affiliations since they perceived the links  between  clan and  native faith.  Europeans who married natives refused to allow their children to have clan identities. 

When the plagues struck Bergonia in the late 1500's the rule of exogamy began to collapse.  Of course the European settlers had no clans and they often wanted  to  take native women for consorts, mistresses and wives.  Their lack of clans confused the Bergonian natives, but then the Bergonians perceived of the possibility of  life without clan  exogamy.  Disease then caused the native population to contract from 60,000,000 in 1560 to 18,000,000 in 1640.  Though a profound depression afflicted several generations of survivors, a great urge for procreation finally infused throughout the natives once the terror of the plagues became less immediate in their collective consciousness and absent from their individual memories.   They found that more sexual partners became available when they ignored the clan rules.   In time, therefore, the natives discarded the rule that their ancestors would have found impossible to live without. Many, perhaps form guilt, certainly from lack of faith, many quit attending clan rites and meetings, and abandoned clan practice altogether, especially those exposed to Christianity for Christian missionaries were determined to stamp out the clan system and the practice cremation. 

However, when the ravages of disease ended and both the numbers and cultural assertiveness of the natives had begun to increase, many natives loudly lamented the loss of clan.  Those who retained clan identities won the envy of their neighbors and asserted their clan activity as a signet of pride.  Beginning in middle of the 1700's, natives developed a folk rite in which seers divined a person's lost clan identity.  Thus, natives whose ancestors had forgotten or repudiated their clans managed to reclaim them.  By the 1800's clan identity became a sign of native pride, and a quick way to boast of opposition to European mores.  Still, to this day, a large number of natives live their lives without a clan identity.  The refusal of a large percentage of the population to participate in the clan system has crippled  one  of  its  basic features, that of mandatory exogamy.  How can one assert clan exogamy in a society where as many as half the population has no clan?  Thus, in the 1900's the clan system persists in truncated form, with its ceremonial, fraternal and mutual aid functions surviving, but with the marital function effectively dead.

Nevertheless, a taint still attaches, and many native Bergonians find themselves observing the  bar,  at least on a gut level.  If challenged on the point, all modern  Bergonians will freely concede  that  no really rational basis ever existed for the clan exogamy rule, and that nothing  exists to logically prohibit an intra-clan relationship.  Even so,  a  large number of people  will admit it makes them feel uncomfortable.  A man will say, "when I meet a woman of  the same clan I know she should be able to ask me for help and every other member of  the clan  will look down on me if I don't help her.  If I try to court her or get her into bed,  I  take that relationship down to a regular level and she would no longer feel like she could ask me for help.  That wouldn't do."   A woman will say, "A clan brother may not be any kind of a blood relative,  but  we  are taught to look to them as if they are, and it just adds  a  little  too  much confusion  to things if you meet a guy and allow yourself to look at him as a potential lover  or husband at the same time you recognize all the clan links between you."

Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote about clans and historical societies:

"There is... a sort of fundamental antipathy between history and systems of classification.  This perhaps explains what one is tempted to call the 'totemic void', for in the bounds of the great civilizations of Europe and Asia there is a remarkable absence of anything which might have reference to totemism, even in the form of remains.   The reason is surely that the latter have elected to explain themselves by history and that this undertaking is incompatible with that of classifying things and beings (natural and social) by means of finite groups."   p.232, The Savage Mind.

Levi-Strauss went on to postulate that "when a society sides with history" it loses the ability to classify into finite groups because the groups evolve, apparently by means of history.   He apparently misses the point.  In tribal and other archaic societies, whether or not they perceive history as a force, historical change still afflicts their societies.  Anthropological study has produced a number of proofs that clan systems experience change and mutation.   Levi-Strauss himself provides examples of this in the discussion contained in Totemism of Australian moieties and quadruple classifications, as well as new Ojibway clans forming over time.  Indeed, a major point of his structuralism is apparently to describe how mythic forms transform as they are diffused between cultures.

Levi-Strauss proposes that societies with clan structures try to deny the effects of historical  change and use "dexterity" in fashioning social structures that provide synchronous classification.   He points out time and time again how Australian aborigines and other archaic people function within beliefs systems that presume the actual totemic presence.   Certainly a culture such as the Bergonian, which developed mathematics,  technology, a universal religion and a cosmopolitan outlook, would have divorced itself from the archaic totemic myths.   In fact, after the advent of Shufrantei, the totemic myths undergirding the Bergonian clans became the stuff of emblemic metaphor, with little more claim on the popular world-view than folktales.

Nevertheless, the clans persisted because they perfected highly useful social functions, primarily as a satisfactory method of distributing and rationing social "goods."  The mutual aid may have actually abetted the development of cosmopolitan culture by sustaining a solid system of social security.  Certainly they remained important in historical time for the active support they gave religion, the tradition of mutual aid and the duty of hospitality, education, and the military.

This strict functionalism, however, does little to explain the strength of the Bergonian clans, since other social structures (e.g. guilds, religious-based groups, class-based patronage relationships) have served the same function  in other societies.  Many have looked at the rule of exogamy as the core, largely because of its sexual nature.  Anthropologists in the 1800s stressed how it allocated women among competitive males.  Atrei defenders of the clan tradition have always answered by pointing out how the clan system gave refuge, succor and the right of revenge to women, thus resulting in their protection, security and protected legal status.  Freudians have speculated about how it repressed sexuality, or is the result of repressed sexuality, and how the Oedipus complex might explain it.  Indeed everyone agrees that violation of the exogamy rule produces the most visceral responses from those pre-modern Bergonians who lived submersed in clans.  Yet, with no apparent sociological, economic or other functional role for the rule of exogamy, it still persists.  One anthropologist has quipped that the function of the Bergonian Clan System is to debunk all functionalist theories in anthropology.   The question of the clans will probably always perplex the historian and the anthropologist.


rev 12 June 06

See the ancient Myth of the First Warrior, and how the clan system came to be.

The 31 ancient clans: 

(1) preba-cat, 

(2) pretla-cat, 

(3) pule-cat, 

(4) boar, 

(5) raccoon, 

(6) monkey, gray 

(7) monkey. red/pygmy

(8) otter, 

(9) fisher, 

(10) wild-sheep/ram,

(11) tuashe, 

(12) deer/stag, 

(13) antelope.

(14) bear, 

(15) fox, 

(16) weasel

(17) white owl

(18) field owl

(19) bald eagle, 

(20) golden eagle, 

(21) hawk, 

(22) kestrel,

(23) heron, 

(24) raven, 

(25) osprey,

(26) alligator

(27) spider,

(28) mantis, 

(29)  cobra-snake,

(30) copperhead snake, and

(31) rattlesnake.

In mythological history, there were 32 clans, a number that fir in beautifully in the ancient symbolism surrounding the number Eight

But legend tells that the 32nd clan, the Dog (Vishget) clan committed dishonor upon itself, and was shunned by the other clans.  No one would marry a Dog clan, so some Dog clan people  committed the unforgivable sin of mating with clan-mates.  The Dog clan  expired.