Totem and Taboo








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