« Greater China-why not? | Gene Expression Front Page | Better Left Unsaid, But.... »
December 16, 2003

Blood is thicker than....

Father love isn't the same as mother love, that's for sure....

The Namboothiri Brahmins of Kerala in southern India had a peculiar tradition. Only the the eldest son married a Namboothiri woman. The younger sons entered into relationships with Nair women (the ruling caste of Kerala). All their children would have the status of the mother. This resulted in a surplus of Namboothiri daughters, though some of this was mitigated by the practice of Namboothiri men entering into polygamous relationships. As for the other half of the equation, from the accounts it seems that the relationships with Nair women could range from polyandry (she could have a Nair husband or other Brahmin lovers) to concubinage (google the term Sambandham). These traditions preserved the property of the Namboothiri families and gave them the resources to become probably the foremost Vedic scholars among the Brahmins of India. In fact, there is a relic of Proto-Indo-European (some specific raised accent) that is preserved only in the Sanskrit used in the ritual of the Namboothiri Brahmins among all the multitudinous tongues spawned by PIE and the forms of Sanskrit used by the various Brahmin groups of India (the Namboothiris themselves speak the Dravidian language of Kerala). With the rise of traditional monogamy the Namboothiris have become far more like other high caste groups....

What does this have to do with the Thurmond? Because of caste strictures most Namboothiri fathers could not interact (eat with, drink with) with their Nair sons-though of course in grand religious tradition the relationship with Nair women was a violation of the letter of the law in the first place. No doubt the fathers loved their sons, but they were not Namboothiri and could not study the sacred Vedas since the Nairs are Sudras (though of course there were issues with paternity in these matrifocal living situations). There is a hierarchy of love and pride in each human being. The fact that generations of southern white men turned their backs on their bastard half-black children is abominable, Thurmond seems to have acted with more honor than most, but again, like so many things, this human tendency of putting social status and group allegiance before ties of blood is not special to the West. Though in these contexts, where families are cleaved asunder, it seems bestial, the abnegation of the parent-child bond is a manifestaiton of that trait that sets us apart from so many animals, the elevation of abstract groups above those of blood-relation in the chain of being.

Posted by razib at 10:14 PM