How is crime determined in primitive societies?


Grime is determined in several ways in primitive societies. The direct perception of the act of crime is sometimes not necessarily available. In the absence of such evidence, the determination of crime is left to the supernatural powers and the person concerned has to undergo severe tests. If he passes through the tests satisfactorily he is declared innocent, otherwise he has to face punishment.

In Africa, in some tribes if it is suspected that a woman has committed some sexual crime and she does not admit it, she is thrown from a high hill to determine whether she has commited the crime or not. After s oiling down the hill if she is unhurt, she is declared innocent, otherwise she is punished. In some other tribes the suspected person has to put his hand in fire or boiling water to prove his innocence.

That is what is known as retributive theory of punishment which is based upon fulfillment of moral justice. It is like the Hindu law of karma according to which the good must be rewarded and evil punished even if they evade determination by the law. Since the primitive people believe that offenders are punished by Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and punishment, the criminal is put to severe tests.


In primitive societies it is generally believed that the priest or Shaman or the magician possesses a supernatural power. Therefore, sometimes the determination of crime is left to them. They follow traditional methods to determine the crime. In some other primitive societies there is a very mild way of determination of crime. The suspected person is asked to solemnly declare whether he is innocent or a criminal. If he denies to make a statement on oath, he is held to be the criminal. On the other hand, if he unhesitatingly declares his innocence on oath, he is freed. Similar custom maybe found in case of Panchayat System in Indian tribes.

The oath is taken in the name of god, one’s children or the Ganges water. This type of determination of crime is prevalent due to faith in the supernatural power of oath. It is generally believed that if a false oath is taken, the offender is punished severely by the supernatural powers, as nothing can be hidden from them.

This way of determination of crime if quite popular. However in some tribes in Africa and America the plaintiff and the defendant respectively present their arguments before the council of elders and the final decision is left to the majority vote of the elders. This type of arrangement may be seen in most of the Indian tribes. And generally justice is done.

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