Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sir James George Frazer views on Totem and Taboo

Sir James George Frazer wrote articles on totem and taboo for Encyclopedia Britannica which appeared in 1888.For him these articles were beginning of a systematic application to anthropology and study of backward race of men.Frazer gave his reason for concentrating on savagery than on civlilization : 

Civilization is extremely complex,savagery is comparatively simple.Savagery is undoubtedly the source from which all civilization has been ultimately derived by a slow process of evolution.It seemed to me therefore that if we are to understand the complex product  we must begin by studying the simple elements out of which it has been gradually compounded.In other words  we must try to understand savagery before we can hopefully to comprehand civilisation.

In his article on totemism and taboo Frazer has given a general idea about social origins which became the guiding principle for much of his work. That from irrational beginning ,system of great adaptative value for society are evolved.In taboo Frazer remarks we shall scarcely err in believing that even in advanced society the moral sentiments in so far as they aer merely sentiments are not based on an induction from experience,desire much of their force from an original system of taboo.Thus on the taboo were grafted the golden fruits of law and morality.


According to Frazer a totem is a class of material objects which a savage regards superstitions with respect believing that there exists between him and every member of clan an intimate all together a special relation In his book Totemism and Exogamy Frazer gave a theory of soul for the origin of totem.He opined that totem originated as belief in soul.Savages believed that souls of human beings after death resided in plants,trees,animals,birds etc.The plants,trees,animals etc which were possessed by the soul of dead persons the savages began to pay respect towards them.Eating and killing of those objects were strictly tabooed.In this way totemism came into being.He cited example from Arunta tribe of Australia in whose belief system,totems were regarded as responsible for causing preganancy among women.Thus totemism came into being from female side rather than male side.When in course of time totems had become hereditary exogamy developed as a means of preventing inbreeding.

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