Rethinking Old Problems: Matriliny, Secret Societies and Political Evolution


  • Michael Allen


MY   EARLY INTEREST in the comparative study of male initiation rites and secret   societies in Melanesia (Allen 1967) had been in large measure generated   through reading the old ethnographies that dealt with the great variety of   elaborate male rites found in the Torres, Banks and north Vanuatu islands.   The early workers, especially Rivers (1914), but also Layard (1942) and   Deacon (1935), devoted considerable attention to the task of understanding   the contemporary distribution of cultures. Impressed by the complex and   seemingty unpredictable way in whiGh similar cultural items appeared in   diverse social contexts in neighbouring communities, they concluded that the   resultant patterns of distribution must be consequences either of internal   evolution, as in the supposed advance from matriliny to patriliny, or of the   historical movement of peoples and cultures.