Orokaiva Society


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I have [says Williams] on a number of occasions asked the native what he means by calling the plant emblem his ancestor. Sometimes he cannot give an answer, but very commonly he can, and then it is always the same: "Our real ancestor," he says, "was a human being, not a tree; it was a man with a tree name." For once, I believe, our native has given the really true explanation. . . .

There are certain reasonably authentic incidents in which a human namesake, or rather original, of the heratu is well remembered. Thus there is a Binandele clan named Yegaboda whose heratu is watora the reed. During their latter migrations these people hid from their enemies among the reeds, and here a baby was born to whom was given, in a very characteristic fashion, the name Watora. In due time this child became the chief man of his clan, which adopted watora, or the reed, as its heratu. So again we find two widely separated branches of the clan Samanahu . . . [and] both sections . . . told the same tale of Samana. He was their common ancestor—not a tree of course, they affirmed, but a man, and one who, as it chanced, acquired his name from the fact that he was brought to birth under a samana tree.1

There is furthermore a predominance of plant names. Williams collected a list of which a number were uninterpretable and unintelligible, but of the interpretable 34 per cent were plant names.

This view corresponds with the one that the Indian totem is derived from the guardian spirit of an individual, but it is not impossible that Orokaiva plant names became fashionable precisely because the heratu was fashionable and that the native explanation is a rationalization.

The above items represent the most important aspect of what has been going on in the field of so-called totemism, but if we should omit the mascot and guardian-spirit idea, and the concept of descent from the totem, there would still be a totemism of a sort, namely, the adoption of symbols of the personality and of the group. All totemism, in fact, eventuates in this, but the assumption of "strong" names is an independent and convergent factor. Men are not only given animal and plant names at birth but they assume additional names representing their exploits and claims. Eagle, falcon, tiger, bear, wolf, bull, unicorn, etc., are strong names and symbols for individuals, families, and states; they are copiously represented in European heraldic devices, on our coins, and in baseball clubs, football teams and boys’ gangs, without any necessary meaning or history except their symbolism. The contrary and derogatory aspect is represented by nicknames.

1Williams, F.E.n/an/an/an/a, , 118–119.


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Chicago: "Orokaiva Society," Orokaiva Society in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed May 23, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PXNIVM1GNRW4AD6.

MLA: . "Orokaiva Society." Orokaiva Society, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 23 May. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PXNIVM1GNRW4AD6.

Harvard: , 'Orokaiva Society' in Orokaiva Society. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 May 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PXNIVM1GNRW4AD6.