Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/29

This page needs to be proofread.


Presidential Address. 19

tribes, with the Arunta and Kaitish, believe that concep- tion is caused by the entrance into a woman of a spirit who has lived in its disembodied state, along with others of the same totem, at any one of a number of totem centres scattered over the country ; but, unlike the Arunta and Kaitish, they almost always assign the father's totem to the child, even though the infant may have given the first sign of life at a place haunted by spirits of a different totem. . . . The theory by which they reconcile these apparently inconsistent beliefs is that a spirit of the husband's totem follows the wife, and enters into her whenever an opportunity offers, whereas spirits of other totems would not think of doing so." Thus we see a step in the transition to paternal descent of the totem ; and the same origin might explain mater- nal descent of the totem, if we suppose the woman to be followed about by a spirit of her own totem, instead of her husband's. Thus the Arunta totemism is con- ceivable as the source of both male and female descent, whereas, given either of these, the Arunta cannot be explained : it becomes only a freak. Freaks are possible, of course ; but it is not reasonable to assume them if a vera causa can be suggested.

If any one thinks that the ignorance of natural facts, which is here assumed, is impossible, he is mistaken. It is actually believed and directly said by certain native tribes, that the intercourse of the sexes has nothing to do with the birth of children. They are in the same mental condition as our fairy tales, where the stork on the chimney-pot brings the new baby into the house. I need not show in detail why the Arunta belief is reasonable, given his premisses ; that has been quite clearly done in Mr. Frazer's article, where the belief is used to throw light on several collateral points. It helps to show, for example, why so many totems are edible objects ; why a man so often identifies himself with his