Persons are sometimes disqualified from fair competition by taints of generations old. It is reported that among the Dyaks of Borneo the least strain of "slave blood," even of generations past, "will outweigh the highest personal qualities," and act as a bar to favorable marriage. 21Next Page
Among primitives, as in civilized societies, occupations are not always hereditary, but "social optimacy displays a marked tendency to run in certain families. A son does not necessarily succeed his father's particular office, yet, official posts will generally be filled from the same privileged class . . . . " 22
Rivers, a careful student, takes note of the general customs of rigid class systems in these words: 23
Sometimes certain crafts could only be followed by persons of a certain rank. Thus, in Tonga, where there are classes intermediate between the nobles and the lowest grade of commoner, certain occupations, such as canoe-making, were limited to those of the higher ranks, while shaving and cooking were only practiced by persons of the lowest class. This distinction would seem to be connected with the sacred character of certain occupations.
The class system of the Northwest Indians was worked out by custom to the point where its levels and ways of conduct approached the modern pattern. Endogamy was encouraged on each level, the inferiors treated the superiors with considerable deference. The society was divided into noblemen, commoners, and slaves recruited from among captives. What today is recognized as conspicuous consumption was elaborated there into an intricate system of pot latching. 24
Mayas and Aztecs. Half-way between primitive cultures and those of modern civilization stand the Mayas and Aztecs, whose social class structures have been the object of much attention, so perfect were they in detail and harmony. Each and every family stood in its place in a more exact manner than was known elsewhere, even in feudal England. Although appointed, the provincial governors and higher officials of the Mayas held what were virtually hereditary offices. 25 Bancroft says of those same people: 26
All high positions, judicial, military, or sacerdotal, were hereditary and restricted to noble families, who traced their genealogy far back into the mythic annals of the nations. Between noble and plebeian blood the lines were sharply defined.
More precise, more perfect, and more completely gleichgeschaltet were the Aztecs, whose social organization reached one of the high points in man's super-ordination and subordination of man in the century before the conquest.
The foundation of Aztec national life was its stratified class structure. The rich nobles drove the commoners out of every phase of political power. The lower classes were henceforth treated as the obedient slaves of the dominant class." 27 The nobility itself was nicely divided into distinct classes.
If all societies were as rigorously hereditary in status, position, and honor as was the Aztec, there would be no occasion for this dissertation concerning social class rigidity. The Aztec social hierarchy offers no difficulties of interpretation, only details of degrees of status. Like the Pyramid of the Sun, it was symmetrical, a geometric design of pronounced regularity.
There were only slight incongruities. The familiar scene of poor noblemen who had to watch the waxing strength of base-born but rich merchants surpass them in the magnificence of their houses -- this too was a part of the picture. But, as in Rome under Sulla and again in the second century A. D., men without the proper social class credentials were all driven out of the palace under Montezuma II. 28
21. Frederick Boyle, Adventures among the Dyaks of Borneo (London, 1865) pp. 284 - 285.
22. Landtman, op. cit., p. 293.
23. W. H. R. Rivers, Social Organization (New York, 1924) p. 150.
24. Robert H. Lowie, Primitive Society (New York, 1925) p. 353.
25. A. Featherman, Social History of the Races of Mankind, Third Division, Part 2, pp. 60 - 61.
26. Bancroft, op. cit., vol. II (1886) p. 638.
27. Featherman, op. cit., Part I, p. 106.
28. Bancroft, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 191 - 193.