chapter  XIII
22 Pages


T HERE is probably no more difficult subject in the whole field of the anthropology of the lower races than that concerning the ideas they have about the phenomena of generation and con­ ception. The difficulty, I believe, is particularly great in regard to the South American Indians. Such profound studies of native thought, as would be necessary in order to find out their beliefs as to the mysterious processes which cause the genesis of a new human life, have very seldom been carried out in South America; and, moreover, we must assume that we are here dealing with questions which, as a rule, only the more intelligent of the savage Indians have made the objects of reflexion. If, nevertheless, I make an attempt to throw light upon this obscure subject, this is because I believe that any contribution to an interesting, but neglected side of Indian psychology will be welcome to anthropologists. Besides, what I have stated before about the belief of the Indians in the transmigration of human souls into animals, plants, and inanimate objects and the probable connection of this belief with their totemic ideas, seems to make it necessary further to elucidate the train of thought which evidently underlies their whole theory of generation and conception. The common theory of metempsychosis of course does not, in itself, explain why totemic tribes derive their descent from the particular animals and plants they regard as their totems, and revere these as their ancestors. This belief in its turn rests on the idea that the soul, having for some time been incarnated in an object of nature, will again assume human form. How this is supposed to happen, we have to investigate in the present chapter.