Totem And Taboo Essay Research Paper Julien

Totem And Taboo Essay, Research Paper

Julien Rouleau

In Totem and Taboo, Freud Sigmund explain the origin of religion of different tribe found around the world. Although related, the two words have quite distinct meanings. According to Compton?s Encyclopedia, ?totemism is a term of Ojibwa American Indian origin that refers to an animal or plant associated either with a group of blood-related persons such as a family or with part of a tribe?. The plant or animal is a totem. As such, totemism is a word used to define relationships. A taboo implies something forbidden or to be avoided. The term is of Polynesian origin. It was first recorded by explorer James Cook in 1771, when he found it used by the natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific. Both terms have their modern counterparts. People frequently discuss their astrological signs and comment that they are, for example, Leos (lions), Pisces (fish), or Aries (rams). Such animal associations with groups of individuals are comparable to totemism. The most common taboo seen today is a “No Smoking” sign in public places.

In chapter 1, Freud explain the stage of development of the primitive man: the inanimate monuments and implements which he has left behind for us through our knowledge of his art, his religion and his attitude toward life, which we have received either directly or through the medium of legends, myth and fairy tales.

To show that this supposition is correct, Freud chooses to compare the ?psychology of primitive races? with the psychology of the neurotic. For different reasons he choose to take the aborigines of the youngest continent: Australia. According to Freud, the

aborigines of Australia are ?look upon as a peculiar race?. They don?t build houses or huts, do not cultivate soil or keep domestic animals. They only live of flesh of animals that they kill. There is no chief, the decision are maid by the assembly. These primitive tribes have a system of Totemism that divided them into separate and smaller clan with each taking and choosing the name of its totem. According to Freud, a totem is ?a plant or a force of nature (rain, water), which stands in a peculiar relation to the whole clan?. Every member of a totem is under sacred obligation not to kill their totem member, to eat its meat or from any other enjoyment of it. If those rules are violated a punishment is given. A totem is not limited to a neighborhood or an area. The members of each totem may live separated from one another. They can also live with people from another totem. Every totem has sexual laws that forbid members of the same totem to have sexual relation with each other and also cannot marry each other. If those rules are broken, the whole tribe avenges a punishment as if it were a question of warding off a danger that threatens the community as a whole or a guilt that weighs upon all.

Some severe punishment is also given when a temporary love affair has not resulted in childbirth. Those tribes are called ?consanguineous?(they are one family with the same blood) because totem is hereditary through the maternal or paternal line. So any sexual relation with someone of the same totem is incest.

The totem exogamy or prohibition of sexual relation between member of the same clan, is probably the most appropriate means for the prevention of group incest. Marriage is a

very complicated subject. Some tribes are so organized that they fall into two divisions of marriage classes or ?Phratries?. Each of these marriage groups is exogenous and includes a majority of totem groups. Each marriage group is also divided into two subclasses. So the whole tribe is then divided into four classes. (Every division is exogenous).

There is also a rule against the relation of boys with their mother and sisters. The boy leaves home at a specific age to move to the clubhouse where he sleep and take meals. He can still visit home to ask for food, but his sister is at home, he must go away before he has eaten. If she is not about to eat, he may seat down to eat near to the door. If by chance they meet each other, she has to turn away and conceal himself. He is not allowed to say her name or use any current word if it forms part of her name. On the other hand the reserve between mother and son increase with age and is more obligatory on the mother?s side. For example if she brings him something to eat, she must put it down before him, and she is also no allowed to address him in any familiar manners.

In some other tribe like the Gazelle peninsula, when the sister get married, she may no longer speak to her brother or mention his name.

In New-Mecklenburg, they are not allowed to approach each other, shake hands, or give each other present.

However, they are allowed to talk to each other to a distance of several paces. Just like every tribe, the penalty of incest with your sister is death.

The Barongos in Delagoa, in Africa, the precautions are directed toward the sister in law, the wife of the brother of one’s wife. If the man meets one of those people, he must avoid

them. He is not allowed to eat at the same table as her, or dare to enter her hut.

In the Akamba tribe in British East Africa, a girl must avoid her own father between her puberty and her marriage. If she meets him on the street she should avoid him and never sit down next to him. However, after the marriage nothing can stop her from having sexual intercourse with her father.

On the other hand there is also a prohibition in almost every tribe of intercourse of a wife with her father in law but these laws are not so constant and serious. For example on the Bank Islands these prohibition are very severe. A man will avoid hi smother in law. If by chance they met, the woman must step aside and turn her back until he passed or he does the same.

In Vanna Lava, a man will not even walk behind his mother in law along the beach until the traces of her footstep are watched away.

Among the Basogas, a Negro tribe that lives in a region of the Nile, a man may talk to his mother in law only if she is in another room of the house and is not visible to him. According to Freud, he don?t understand why ?all these races should manifest such great fear of temptation on the part of the man for an elderly woman, old enough to be his mother.?

Freud explains that psychoanalysis has taught us that the first object selection of the boy in of an incestuous nature and that he is attracted to everything that is forbidden: The mother, the sister. He also explains that psychoanalysis taught him the mature individual try to free himself from this attraction.

In chapter 2, Freud explains the meaning of the word taboo. Taboo is a Polynesian word, which means ?sacer? for the ancient Romans and must have had the same meaning for the Greeks and the Hebrews. According to Freud, the meaning of taboo brake into two opposite directions. On one hand it means sacred and consecrated: on the other hand it means uncanny, dangerous, forbidden, and unclean. The opposite for taboo is the Polynesian word ?Noa? that means something ordinary and generally accessible. The taboo restrictions are different from the religious and normal constraint. They are not imposed by god but by themselves.

To explain the meaning of taboo, Freud gives the interpretation of W.Wundt. Wundt says that taboo is the oldest unwritten code of law, assuming that taboo is older than the Gods and goes back to the pre-religious age. According to Wundt, taboo ?includes all customs which express dread of particular objects connected with cultic ideas on of actions having reference to them?.

Wundt also shows why he finds more practical to study the nature of taboo of the Australian savages, instead of the Polynesian races.

For the Australians tribe, he divides taboo into three classes: animals, persons or other object. The animal taboo consists of the taboo against killing and eating. The taboo of persons, explain that tools, clothes and weapons are a permanent taboo for everybody else. The taboo of object that apply to trees, plants, house, and localities are more variable and seem only to follow the rules that anything which for any reason arouse

dread or is mysterious, becomes subject to taboo. The animal, person or place, on which there is a taboo is demonic, it is sacred and therefore ?not clean?.

Taboo also prohibits the act of touching. It prohibit not only the direct contact with the body but also to the figurative use of the phrase as ?to come into contact? or ?be in touch with someone or something?. Anyone who ha s violated a taboo by touching something which is a taboo become taboo himself, and no one may come into contact with him. For example: ? Maori chief would not blow on fire with his mouth; for his sacred breath would communicate its sanctity to the fire, which would pass it on to the man who ate the meat which was in the pot, which stood on the fire, which was breathed on by the chief; so that the eater, infected by the chief?s convoyed through these intermediaries, would surely die?.

The oldest and probably most important taboo prohibition are the two basic laws of totemism: namely not to kill the totem animal, and to avoid sexual intercourse with totem companions of the other sex.

As we know, an individual who has violated a taboo, becomes himself taboo because he has the dangerous property of tempting others to follow his exemple. He is therefore really contagious and then he must be avoided. But a person may become permanently or temporarily taboo without having violated any taboos, for the simple reason that ?he is in a condition which has the property of inciting the forbidden desires of others and awakening the ambivalent conflict in them.?

It is clear that the violation of certain taboo becomes a social danger that must be punished by all the members of society. If they did not punish the violator, they would therefore become aware that they want to imitate evil.

Among these races, taboo has become the general form of law imposed by chiefs and priests to insure their property and privileges. Freud explains they?re still remains a large group of laws related to enemies, chiefs, and the dead.

First, let?s talk about enemies. The punishment when you kill an enemy is different in every tribe. For example, in Timor the leader of the expedition cannot return to his house under any circumstances. A special hut is given for him in whom he spent two month engaged in various rules of purification. During this period, he may not see his wife or nourish himself: another person must put his food in his mouth.

In the Dayak tribe, warriors returning from a successful expedition must remain sequestered for several days and abstain from certain food. They may not touch iron and must remain away from their wives.

The behavior of primitive races toward their chiefs, kings, and priest, is controlled by two principles. They must both be guarded and be guarded against. They must be guarded against ruler, because they are the bearers of that mysterious and dangerous magic power which communicates itself by contact, like an electric charge, bringing death and destruction to any one not protected by similar charge. All direct or indirect contact with this dangerous sacredness is therefore avoided, and when it cannot be avoided, a ceremonial has been found to prevent the consequences. For example, the Nubas in East

Africa, for instance, believe that they must die if they enter the house of their priest king, but that they escape his danger if, on entering, they bare the left shoulder and induce the king to touch it with his hand. The necessity of guarding the king from every danger arises from his great importance for the weal and woe of his subjects. He is a person who regulate the ?course of the world?. His people have to thank him not only for the rain and sunshine but also for the wind that brings the ships to their shore and for the solid ground on which they set their feet. Every king just like his subject is tempted by taboo. For example, on ?Shark Point at Cape Padron in Lower Guinea (West Africa), a priest called Kululu lives alone in a woods. He is not allowed to touch a woman or to leave his house and cannot even rise out of his chair, in which he must sleep in a sitting position. The honor of being a priest or a king ceased to be desirable; the person in line for the succession often used every means to escape it. On Niue a coral island in the Pacific Ocean, monarchy actually ended because nobody was willing to take responsibility. In some part of West Africa, a general council is held after the death of the king to determine upon the successor. The man that is chosen is seized and kept in custody in a ?fetish house? until he is willing to accept the crown.

Among most primitive people, the taboo of the dead is the most important. The taboo customs after bodily contact with the dead are the same all over Polynesia, Melanesia and in part of Africa. Anyone who had touched a corpse or who had taken part in its interment became extremely unclean and was cut from intercourse with his fellow beings; he could not enter a house, or approach persons or objects without infecting them with

the same properties. He could not even touch his food with his own hands. His food was put on the ground and he had no alternative except to seize it as best he could with his lips and teeth while his hand were behind his back. Among the Shuswap in British-Columbia widows and widowers have to remain segregated during their period of mourning; they must not use their hands to touch the body or the head and all utensils used by them not be used by anyone else.

Among the Agutainos, who live in Palawan, a widow may not leave her hut for the first seven or eight days after her husband?s death, except at night. On eof the most surprising taboo customs of mourning is the prohibition against pronouncing the name of the deceased. In South American tribes, it is considered the gravest insult to the survivors to pronounce the name of the deceased in their presence. If the deceased had the same name as an animal or an object, the animal or object names must be changed to new ones in order no to be reminded of the deceased when they mentioned them.

In chapter three, Freud talks about animism, magic and the omnipotence of thought. According to Freud, animism is the theory of psychic concepts and in the wider sense, of spiritual beings in general. Animism is a system of thought; it gives not only the explanation of a single phenomenon, but makes it possible to understand the totality of the world from one point, as continuity.

According to Freud, sorcery is essentially the art of influencing spirits by treating them like people under the same circumstances. Magic however, is something else; it does not essentially concern itself with spirits, and uses special means, not the ordinary

psychological method. Magic serve the most the most varied purposes. It is subject to the process of nature to the will of man, protect the individual against enemies and dangers, and give him power to injure his enemies. One of the most widespread magic procedures for injuring an enemy consists of making a duplicate of him out of any kind of material. This magic thecnique, instead of being used for private enmity can also be employed for pious purposes and can thus be used to aid the gods against evil demons. Other method can be used to injure enemies. One other method that is used to injure your enemies is to get a hold of his hair, his nails, anything that he has discarded and do something hostile to these things. This is just as effective as if you had dominated the person himself.

Freud explain that there is a great mass of magic actions which show a similar motivation, but Freud only stress upon only two: the art of causing rain is produced by magic means, by imitating it and by imitating the clouds and storm which produce it.

For example, the Ainos of Japan make rain by pouring out water through a big sieve, while others fir out a big bowl with sails and oars as if it were a ship, which is then dragged about the village and gardens.

Freud adopted the term ?omnipotence of thought? from an intelligent man, ?a former sufferer from compulsion neurosis, who, after being cured through psychoanalytic treatment, was able to demonstrate his efficiency and good sense. He had coined this phrase to designate all those peculiar and uncanny occurrences which seemed to pursue him just as they pursue others afflicted with his malady?. This means that if he happened

to think of a person, he was actually confronted with this person as if he had conjured him up.

In this last chapter, Freud decides to empathize the meaning of totemism. Totemism is a religious as well as a social system. On its religious side it consist of the relations of mutual respect and consideration between a person and his totem, and on its social side it is composed of obligations of the members of the clan towards each other and towards other tribes. Freud also brings up the origin of totemism. To explain the origin of theory of totemism, he divided into three groups: The nomalistic theories, the sociological theories, and the psychological theories. According to Herbert Spencer, ?the origin of totemism was to be found in the giving of the names.? The attributes of certain individuals had brought about their being named after animals so that they had come to have names of honor or nicknames that continued in their descendants. To explain the sociological theories, Freud affirms that ?the totem is the visible representative of the social religion of these races. It embodies the community, which is the real object of veneration.?

To explain the psychological theories, Freud says that the totem was meant to represent a safe place of refuge where the soul is deposited in order to avoid the dangers that threaten it. After primitive man had housed his soul in his totem he became invulnerable and he naturally took care of himself not to harm the bearer of his soul.

To also explain the origin of totemism, Freud explains the relation between human and animals. At first the child attribute full equality to the animals; he feels more closely related to the animal that to the adult that is still mysterious to him. At a part of his

adolescence, the child suddenly begins to fear certain animal species and to protect himself against seeing or touching any individual of this species. Also one of the oldest form of sacrifice, older than the use of fire and the knowledge of agriculture, was the sacrifice of animals, whose flesh and blood was eaten by the God. According to Freud, ?psychoanalysis has revealed to us that the totem animal is really a substitute for the father, and this really explains the contradiction that it is usually forbidden to kill the totem animal, that the killing of it results in a holiday and that the animal is killed and yet mourned.?

In this book, the attempt was to find the original meaning of totemism through its infantile traces. Both totem and taboo are ?held to have their roots in the Oedipus complex, which lies at the basis of all neurosis? and, as Freud argued, it was also ?the origin of religion, ethics, society, and art?


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