Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Toronto to Wood Working Tools >> Totem

Totem

american, totems, emu and indians

TOTEM, a word which appears to have been applied originally to the animal or other thing held sacred by certain American Indians as the sign or symbol of the tribe or of an in dividual Indian. The superstition is not con fined to American Indians and has its counter part in the symbols of civilized nations. The American eagle, the lion of Great Britain, the thistle of Scotland, the rose of England, etc., and the arms of noble families are illustrations.

The practice can be traced, indeed, throughout all history, among the greatest empires and the most savage tribes.

The totem superstition varies in its features in different countries. The members of the Emu clan of an Australian tribe believe them selves to be descended from the emu and are regarded as forming a kind of blood-group in virtue of their common descent. No member is permitted to marry within the clan, and all the members are bound to support one another in times of necessity. No Emu clansman will knowingly lcill or eat an emu. Among some savage peoples the dead totem is elaborately mourned and carefully buried.' Besides clan totems there are sex totems and individual totems. The totem having an important bear ing on a person's relations to his fellows, it is shown conspicuously, being often tattooed on the slcin or otherwise. The importance of

totemism in relation to the social and religious institutions of savage peoples was first pointed out by J. F. M'Lennan in 1868 and much fresh light has been shed on the subject bv subsequent investigators but no satisfactory. explanation of this curious system has yet been advanced. The American Indians were given to totemism and not only set up various animal figures as em blematic of their tribes but individuals were fre quently named after animals. The exact mean ing and character of their totem practices is little understood. There were rules as to all marriages of those in kindred totems; some took their totems from their fathers, some frorn their mothers and some from their tribe. Totem ism exists also among many African peoples, and numerous instances of it are to be met with in Asia and Polynesia. (See AFRICA ; AUSTRA LIA ; INDIANS, AMERICAN). Consult Lang, A., (The Secret of the Totem> (1905) ; Frazer, (Totemism' (1887) ; Durkheim, E., 'Elemen tary Forms of the Religious Life' (Eng. trans., London 1915).