1902 Encyclopedia > Totemism > Geographical Diffusion of Totemism

(Part 8)


Geographical Diffusion of Totemism

In Australia totemism is almost universal. [Footnote 475-6] In North America it may be roughly said to prevail, or have prevailed, among all the tribes east of the Rocky Mountains, [Footnote 475-7] and among all the Indian (but not the Eskimo) tribes on the north-west coast as far south as the United States frontier. On the other hand, highly competent authorities have failed to find it among the tribes of western Washington, north-western Oregon, and California. [Footnote 475-8] In Panama it exists apparently among the Guaymies : each tribe, family, and individual has a guardian animal, the most prevalent being a kind of parrot. [Footnote 475-9] In South America totemism is found among the Goajiros on the borders of Colombia and Venezuela, [Footnote 475-10] the Arawaks in Guiana, [Footnote 475-11] the Bosch negroes also in Guiana, [Footnote 475-12] and the Patagonians. [Footnote 475-13] Finding it at such distant points of the continent, we should expect it to be widely prevalent ; but, with our meagre knowledge of the South American Indians, this is merely conjecture. The aborigines of Peru and the Salivas on the Orinoco believed in the descent of their tribes from animals, plants, and natural objects, such as the sun and earth; [Footnote 475-14] but this, though a presumption, is not a proof of totemism.

In Africa totemism prevails in Senegambia, among the Bakalai on the equator, on the Gold Coast and in Ashantee, and among the Damaras and Bechuanas in southern Africa. [Footnote 475-15] There are traces of totemism elsewhere in Africa. In eastern Africa the Gallas are divided into two exogamous sections, and have certain forbidden foods. [Footnote 475-16] In Abyssinia certain districts or families will not eat of certain animals or parts of animals. [Footnote 475-17] The territory of the Hovas in Madagascar is divided and subdivided into districts, the names of the subdivisions referring "rather to clans and divisions of people than to place." One of these names is "the powerful bird," i.e., either the eagle or the vulture. The same clan is found occupying separate districts. [Footnote 475-18] One Madagascar tribe regard a species of lemur as "an embodiment of the spirit of their ancestors, and therefore they look with horror upon killing them." Other Malagasy tribes and families refrain from eating pigs and goats; others will not eat certain vegetables nor even allow them to be carried into their houses. [Footnote 475-19] The only occasion when the Sakalava tribe in Madagascar kill a bull is at the circumcision of a child, who is placed on the bull’s back during the customary invocation. [Footnote 475-20]

In Bengal, as we have seen, there are numerous totem tribes among the non-Aryan races. In Siberia the Yakuts are divided into totem clans; the clansmen will not kill their totems (the swan, goose, raven, &c.); [Footnote 476-1] and the clans are exogamous. [Footnote 476-2] The Altaians, also in Siberia, are divided into twenty-four clans, which, though interfused with each other, retain strongly the clan feeling; the clans are exo-gamous ; each has its own patron divinity and religious ceremonies ; and the only two names of clans of these and kindred tribes of which the meanings are given are names of animals. [Footnote 476-3] Totemism exists among the mountaineers of Formosa, [Footnote 476-4] and there are traces of it in China. [Footnote 476-5] In Polynesia it existed, as we have seen, in Samoa. In Melanesia it appears in Fiji, [Footnote 476-6] the New Hebrides, [Footnote 476-7] and the Solomon Islands. [Footnote 476-8] Amongst the Dyaks there are traces of totemism in the prohibition of the flesh of certain animals to certain tribes, respect for certain plants, &c. [Footnote 476-9] It exists in the islands of Ambon, Uliase, Leti, Moa, Lakor, Keisar (Makisar), Wetar, and the Aaru and Babar archipelagos. [Footnote 476-10] In the Philippine Islands there are traces of it in the reverence for certain animals, the belief that the souls of ancestors dwell in trees, &c. [Footnote 476-11]

With regard to ancient nations, totemism may be regarded as certain for the Egyptians, and highly probable for the Semites, [Footnote 476-12] Greeks, and Latins. If proved for one Aryan people, it might be regarded as proved for all; since totemism could scarcely have been developed by any one Aryan branch after the dispersion, and there is no evi-dence or probability that it ever was borrowed. Prof. Sayce finds totemism among the ancient Babylonians, but his evidence is not conclusive. [Footnote 476-13]

No satisfactory explanation of the origin of totemism has yet been given. Mr Herbert Spencer finds the origin of totemism in a "misinterpretation of nicknames" : savages first named themselves after natural objects, and then, confusing these objects with their ancestors of the same names, reverenced them as they already reverenced their ancestors. [Footnote 476-14] But this view attributes to verbal misunderstandings far more influence than, in spite of the so-called comparative mythology, they ever seem to have exercised.


475-6 Perhaps the only known exceptions are the Kurnai in eastern and the Gournditch-mora in western Victoria. For the latter see Fison and Howitt, p. 275.

475-7 Gutschet, Migration Legend of the Creek Indians, 153; H. Hale, The Iroquois Book of Rites, p. 51.

475-8 George Gibbs in Contrib. to N. American Ethnol., i. 184; S. Powers, Tribes of Calif., 5.

475-9 A. Pinart in Revue d’Ethnographie, vi. p. 36.

475-10 Simons in Proc. R. Geog. Soc., Dec. 1885, pp. 786, 796.

475-11 Brett, Ind. Tribes of Guiana, 98; Im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana, 175 sq.

475-12 Crevaux, Voyages dans l’Amérique du Sud, p. 59.

475-13 Falkner, Descr. of Patagonia, 114.

475-14 Garcilasso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas, pt. 1. bk. i. chs. 9, 10, 11, 18 ; Gumilla, Hist. de l’Orénoque, i. 175 sq.

475-15 Revue d’Ethnologie, iii. 396 sq., v. 81; A. B. Ellis, The Tshi-speaking People of the Gold Coast, p. 204 sq.; Bowdich, Mission to Ashantee, ed. 1873, p. 216; Du Chaillu, Equat. Afr., 308 sq.; Id., Journey to Ashango Land, 427, 429 ; C. J. Anderson, Lake Ngami, 221 sq.; Livingstone, Travels in S. Africa, 13; Casalis, The Basutos, 211 ; J. Mackenzie, Ten Years North of the Orange River, 393; J. A. I, xvi. 83 sq.

475-16 Charles New, Life, Wanderings, &c., in Eastern Africa, 272, 274.

475-17 Mansfield Parkyns, Life in Abyssinia, 293 ; Tr. Ethnol. Soc., new series, vi. 292.

475-18 Ellis, Hist. of Madagascar, i. 87.

475-19 Folk-Lore Record, ii. 22, 30.

475-20 ibid., iv. 45.

476-1 Strahlenberg, Description of the North and Eastern Parts of Europe and Asia, London, 1738, p. 383.

476-2 Middendorf, Siber. Reise, p. 72, quoted by Lubbock, Origin of Civilization, p. 135. The present writer has been unable to find the passage of Middendorf referred to.

476-3 W. Radloff, Aus Siberien, i. 216, 258. The Ostiaks, also in Siberia, are divided into exogamous clans, and they reverence the bear (Castren, Vorlesungen über die Altaischen Völker, 107, 115, 117). This, however, by no means amounts to a proof of totemism.

476-4 Verhandl. d. Berl. Gesell. Anthropologie, &c., 1882, p. (69).

476-5 Morgan, A. S., p. 364 sq. One of the aboriginal tribes of China worships the image of a dog (Gray, China, ii. 306).

476-6 Williams, Fiji and the Fijians, ed. 1860, i. 219 sq.

476-7 Turner, Samoa, 334.

476-8 Fison and Howitt, p. 37 n.

476-9 Low, Sarawak, 265 sq., 272-274, 306; St John, Life in the Forests of the Far East, i. 186 sq., 203; cf. Wilken in Ind. Gids, June 1884, p. 988 sq.; Ausland, 16th June 1884, p. 470.

476-10 Riedel, De sluik-en kroesharige rassen tusschen Papua en, Selebes, pp. 32, 61, 253 334, 341, 376 sq., 414, 432.

476-11 Blumentritt: Der Ahnencultus und die religiösen Anschauungen der Malaien dee Philippinen-Archipel, 159 sq.

476-12 See W. R. Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia.

476-13 A. H. Sayce, The Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, p. 279 sq.

476-14 Spencer, Principles of Sociology, i. 367.

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