Towards the end of an essay I published a few years ago on ‘Freud and anthropology’ (Hiatt, 1987), I made some tentative remarks about the Oedipus complex in the light of modern studies in behavioural primatology and brain evolution. More recently, I attempted to develop this perspective in an article called ‘Towards a natural history of fatherhood’ (Hiatt, 1990). The present paper continues the project by examining the relationship between fathers and sons in the context of initiation among the Australian Aborigines. The empirical materials are drawn largely from On Aboriginal Religion by W.E.H. Stanner, published first as a series of articles in Oceania between 1959 and 1963 and later as a monograph. 1 However, I touch on a more general issue, viz. what is the significance for psychoanalytic theory of the fact that fathers in many cultures not only love their sons but behave lovingly towards them?
As we all know, the archetypal father of Totem and Taboo was a violent male who defended his harem against all-comers and expelled his sons from the primal horde as they reached maturity. Freud based his depiction on some speculations by Darwin about early human breeding units, as well as certain statements by Atkinson concerning ‘parricide’ in herds of wild cattle and horses (Freud, 1919:325). However, we learn virtually nothing about the primal sire except that he had a bad temper. The representation of the sons is more complex: as well as hostility for the father, they also felt tenderness, and hence remorse for their rebellion against him. Why they should have been fond of the tyrant who made lives miserable remains a mystery. One looks in vain for a mention of paternal love.
The contrast between Freudian archetype and anthropological reality is stark. In the ethnographic record, paternal love abounds. The implication of this fact for psychoanalytic theory was discussed incisively by Spiro in his important book Oedipus in the Trobriands (1982). More recently, Hewlett (1991) has presented the most systematic account of paternal love among hunter-gatherers yet published. In his book Intimate Fathers he says that