Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy

The Continuing Search for the Ever-Elusive Monogamous Tribe

Dave Doleshal, Ph.D.

It is widely presumed that many, if not most, indigenous peoples and pre-industrial societies are strictly monogamous. Even so, despite the widespread popularity of this claim, it has proven remarkable difficult to locate even one specific traditional culture that is unquestionably monogamous in terms of either formal marriage customs or in terms of sexual behavior patterned in any part of the world.

However, one possible exception may be the indigenous cultures of North America. Although the vast majority of the several hundred traditional Native American societies cannot accurately be described as monogamous, at least a handful of indigenous societies in this region have been reported to practice monogamy.

This presentation examines the claims for six specific American ethnic groups which have been reported to have been completely monogamous since pre-colonial times. How reliable and valid are these claims? What are the possible factors that might account for a specific culture adopting and retaining a monogamous pattern even when surrounded by numerous nonmonogamous societies? How might the existence of such monogamous Native American societies increase our understanding of monogamy and nonmonogamy in contemporary Western societies?