1902 Encyclopedia > Totemism > Individual Totems

(Part 5)


Individual Totems

It is not only the clans and the sexes that have totems : individuals also have their own special totems, i.e., classes of objects (generally species of animals), which they regard as related to themselves by those ties of mutual respect and protection which are characteristic of totemism. This relationship, however, in the case of the individual totem, begins and ends with the individual man, and is not, like the clan totem, transmitted by inheritance. The evidence for the existence of individual totems in Australia, though conclusive, is very scanty. In North America it is abundant.

In Australia we hear of a medicine-man whose clan totem through his mother was kangaroo, but whose "secret" (i.e., individual) totem was the tiger-suake. Snakes of that species, therefore, would not hurt him. [Footnote 471-14] An Australian seems usually to get his individual totem by dreaming that he has been transformed into an animal of the species. Thus a man dreamed three times he was a kangaroo; hence he became one of the kangaroo kindred, and might not eat any part of a kangaroo on which there was blood; he might not even carry home one on which there was blood. He might eat cooked kangaroo; but, if he were to eat the meat with the blood on it, the spirits would no longer take him up aloft. [Footnote 471-15]

In America the individual totem is usually the first animal of which a youth dreams during the long and generally solitary fasts which American Indians observe at puberty. He kills the animal or bird of which he dreams, and henceforward wears its skin or feathers, or sonic part of them, as an amulet, especially on the war-path and in hunting. [Footnote 471-16] A man may even (though this seems exceptional) acquire several totems in this way; thus an Ottawa medicine-man had for his individual totems the tortoise, swan, woodpecker, and crow, because he had dreamed of them all in his fast at puberty. The respect paid to the individual totem varies in different tribes. Among the Slave, Hare, and Dogrib Indians a man may not eat, skin, nor if possible kill his individual totem, which in these tribes is said to be alwavs a carnivorous animal. Each man carries with him a picture of his totem (bought of a trader); when he is unsuccessful in the chase, he pulls out the picture, smokes to it, and makes it a speech. [Footnote 471-17]

The Indians of Canada changed their okki or manitoo (individual totem) if they had reason to be dissatisfied with it; their women had also their okkis or manitoos, but did not pay so much heed to them as did the men. They tattooed their individual totems on their persons. [Footnote 471-18] Amongst the Indians of San Juan Capistrano, a figure of the individual totem, which was acquired as usual by fasting, was moulded in a paste made of crushed herbs on the right arm of the novice. Fire was then set to it, and thus the figure of the totem was burned into the flesh. [Footnote 471-19] Sometimes the individual totem is not acquired by the individual himself at puberty, but is fixed for him independently of his will at birth. Thus among the tribes of the isthmus of Tehuantepec, when a woman was about to be confined, the relations assembled in the hut and drew on the floor figures of different animals, rubbing each one out as soon as it was finished. This went on till the child was born, and the figure that then remained sketched on the ground was the child’s tona or totem. When he grew older the child procured his totem animal and took care of it, believing that his life was bound up with the animal’s, and that when it died he too inust die. [Footnote 472-1] Similarly in Samoa, at child-birth the help of several "gods" was invoked 'in succession, and the one who happened to be addressed at the moment of the birth was the infant’s totem. These "gods" were dogs, eels, sharks, lizards, &c. A Samoan had no objection to eat another man’s "god"; but to eat his own would have been death or injury to him. [Footnote 472-2] Sometimes the okkis or manitoos acquired by dreams are not totems but fetiches, being not classes of objects but individual objects, such as a particular tree, rock, knife, pipe, &c. [Footnote 472-3]

Besides the clan totem, sex totem, and individual totem, there are (as has been indicated) some other kinds or varieties of totems , but the consideration of them had better be deferred till after the consideration of the social organization based on totemism.


471-14 Ibid., xvi. p. 50.

4571-15 Ibid., 45.

471-16 Catlin, N, Amer. Indians, i. p. 36 sq.; Schoolcraft, Ind. Tr., v. p. 196; Id., Amer. Ind., p. 213; Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life, p. 173 sq.; Bancroft, i. 283 sq.; Id., iii. 156; Mayne, Brit. Columb., p. 302; P. Jones, Hist. Ojebway Ind., p. 87 sq., &c.

471-17 Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1866, p. 307.

471-18 Charlevoix, Hist. de la Noun Fr., vi. 67 sq. The word okki is Huron; manitoo is Algonkin (ibid.; Sagard, Le grand Voyage du pay des Hurons, p. 231).

471-19 Boscana in A. Robinson’s Life in California, pp. 270 sq., 273; Bancroft, i. 414, iii. 167 sq.

472-1 Bancroft, i. 661.

472-2 Turner, Samoa 17.

472-3 Lafitau, Moeurs des Sauxages Ameriquains, i. 370 sq.; Charlevoix, Hist. de la Nouv. Fr., vi. 68 ; Kohl, Kitchi Gami, i. 85 sq.

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