The Arunta


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The totemic system of the Arunta and other Central Australian tribes is based on the idea of the reincarnation of Alchera [old old time] ancestors who were in many cases regarded as the actual transformations of animals and plants or of such inanimate objects as water, fire, wind, sun, moon, and stars.4

There are localities of totem centers haunted exclusively by given totem spirits which enter the woman through the loins, and on the death of the woman secrete themselves in certain objects and places awaiting the opportunity for a reincarnation. Consequently the child belongs to the totem of the locality in which it was conceived. If, for example, an emu woman is visiting or passing through a kangaroo locality and feels that she is pregnant, the child, born months later in an emu locality, is nevertheless a kangaroo. Mother and child may thus be of different totems.

There is in New Guinea a practice so unlike any of the forms of totemism I have mentioned that it is doubtful whether it should be called totemic. Or rather, it seems that the current concepts of totemism should be revised to include it. Among the Orokaiva tribes each sib has a plant emblem called the heratu. It is almost always a plant, rarely a bird, and never, apparently, an animal or fish. The natives say that the heratu is the name of an ancestor who was never a plant, but a man who was named after a plant.

4Spencern/an/an/an/an/an/a and Gillenn/an/an/an/an/an/a, , 79.


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Chicago: "The Arunta," The Arunta in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2023,

MLA: . "The Arunta." The Arunta, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: , 'The Arunta' in The Arunta. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2023, from