The Law of Primitive Man

The Law of Primitive Man : A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics

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A classic work in the anthropology of law, this book offered one of the first ambitiously conceived analyses of the fundamental rights and duties that are treated as law among nonliterate peoples (labeled "primitive" at the time of the original publication). The heart of the book is a description and analysis of the law of five societies: the Eskimo; the Ifugao of northern Luzon in the Philippines; the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne tribes of the western plains of the United States; the Trobriand Islanders of the southwest Pacific; and the Ashanti of western Africa. Hoebel's lucid analysis reveals the variety and complexity of these societies' political and legal institutions. It emphasizes their use of due process in adjudication and enforcement and highlights the importance of general explicit standards of conduct in these societies. In offering these detailed case studies of societies studied by other anthropologists, and in outlining an influential approach to the subject, it remains an illuminating book for both scholars and students.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 368 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 24mm | 458.13g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • None
  • 0674023625
  • 9780674023628
  • 1,149,553

Review Text

Presents a description and analysis of the law of five societies: the Eskimo; the Ifugao of northern Luzon in the Philippines; the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne tribes of the western plains of the US; the Trobriand Islanders of the southwest Pacific; and the Ashanti of western Africa. This work is intended for both scholars and students.
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Review quote

It will undoubtedly take its place as the indispensable account-rendered of work to date on primitive legal culture...The work is indispensable to all serious students of law in society, but it is to be hoped that even those lawyers whose interests are of a more practical cast may find in it the means of lengthened perspective on the daily job and of the beginning or heightening of that wisdom in matters human which is offered by the science of man. -- Charles L. Black, Jr. Columbia Law Review 19550501 A wealth of stimulating ideas is offered in the book...This work is bound to become the textbook of primitive law for future generations of students of both social anthropology and jurisprudence. -- Leonhard Adams Yale Law Journal 19550701 Hoebel not only engages in an exhaustive and lucid analysis of the legal system of each of his sample societies, but in addition does a magnificent job of distilling from each system a set of 'jural postulates' on which it appears to be based...Hoebel has done a great number of things well and has raised an impressive number of new and fascinating questions, as well as renewing some questions which have been neglected in anthropology since the nineteenth century. He has not solved all the problems of comparative jurisprudence, but he has probably done something much more valuable in writing one of the most genuinely stimulating anthropological books of the past ten years. -- C. W. M. Hart American Anthropologist 19560601 The present volume is the first really satisfactory book on the law-ways of non-literate peoples in any language...The analysis of the law-ways of the seven different peoples is both fascinating and instructive, and the final chapters on law and society, the interrelations between religion, magic and law, the functions of the law, and the trend of the law, will be of interest to layman and student alike. -- Ashley Montagu Isis 19551201 To most lawyers legal ethnology has remained an obscure and, therefore, useless subject. This was attributable to the lack of a treatise on legal ethnology, more particularly, a treatise understandable by the law-trained man...The gap has now been filled. Only one man in America was qualified to do the job properly: E. Adamson Hoebel...The book presents a wealth of findings concerning the emergence and purpose of particular legal rules...He has attacked a most difficult problem, and he has conquered it well. The book will be regarded as a pioneer work of ethnological jurisprudence, and it will be remembered as one of the best pieces of American legal realism. -- Gerhard O. W. Mueller Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 19550901 Professor Hoebel's volume is the most thorough study of primitive law that we now possess. His attitude is rigorously behavioristic and empirical, and he thus rejects the traditional natural law approach as well as Austinianism and Kelsenism. He accepts the idea of the superorganic, but his main point of departure is in terms of the recognized values of a culture...In the selection of the five cultures he has chosen for analysis Professor Hoebel begins with the rudimentary law of the anarchic Eskimo, passes to the private law of the Ifugao, studies next the law of the plains Indians, rebuts Malinowski's theory of the law of the Trobriand Islanders, and concludes with an account of Ashanti law, a people on the threshold of civilization, i.e., their culture was advanced but they had not yet invented writing...His book is an admirable study of a difficult subject. -- Huntington Cairns Journal of Politics 19560801 This is the best general discussion we have of primitive law... Anthropologists and lawyers alike have raised clouds of dust in their handling of the relations of religion, magic, and law. Hoebel's excellent treatment of the variable nature of these relations should lay the dust...Hoebel is very conscious of law as sometimes 'making society' rather than merely reflecting it. -- Irving Kaplan American Journal of Sociology 19560101 The Law of Primitive Man is a first-rate comparative study of the law and its development--the best thing of its kind...The book will undoubtedly become a classic in the field of sociology of law. -- Everett C. Hughes Stanford Law Review 19550501
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About E. Adamson Hoebel

E. Adamson Hoebel (1925-1983) was Professor and Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and author of The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence.
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