Nothing primitive about totems

Chief Donald Kamba Tracing African Roots
Just as totems are used as gestures of respect among people as they seek to resolve their differences, they are also used to pay respect for a job well done.

THE invoking of totems has the therapeutic effect of inducing a return to nobility and honour irrespective of whether the parties to a dispute or debate share the same totem or are of different totems. Countless accounts exist where the dead only respond in an agreeable manner if addressed using the totem system. A car in perfect working order may suddenly stop when carrying a corpse . The people involved will not panic and will not look for a mechanic.

They will simply, and with reverence, address the corpse by totem and the car will start with one kick. When a dark cloud visits the room where the body of the deceased body is being viewed, it is an indication that the one who is doing the viewing has a stake in the demise of the deceased.

The elderly of society, especially a family member or close associate, will invoke the totem of the deceased to let go, and the cloud disappears. Rain-making ceremonies take a cue from invoking ancestral guidance, through the totem system, from immersing rapoko, brewing beer, conducting the ritual, with rains falling immediately after concluding the ritual at a sacred place.

If one suffers a bite from a deadly snake but is far away from treatment, a relative of a similar totem can be treated for the bite on behalf of the victim of the snake bite, and the venom is neutralized, thereby saving the victim’s life. If one eats a totemic animal in complete ignorance, nothing happens to him. However, if one eats a totemic animal knowingly, and in complete defiance of cultural norms, he loses his teeth.

I can confirm that my own uncle lost his teeth when he knowingly and defiantly feasted on a totemic animal for the Makoni people – the buffalo. Totemism is not blind to circumstances, and is generous where wrongful acts are not committed wilfully. It is clear that the totem system, steeped in genealogy and cultural traditions, depicts occurrences that belong to the paranormal.

Just as totems are used as gestures of respect among people as they seek to resolve their differences, they are also used to pay respect for a job well done. Such praise arises out of different situations, whether one has brought home game meat, bought a car, or solved a particularly difficult family or community problem.

The African defines himself as a spiritual, and not a religious animal. Attempts by foreign and local interests to undermine African Traditional Religion that is fiercely spiritual, seek to disconnect the African from the God of their forefathers.

The God of our forefathers answers to prayers by Africans in the most direct and swift manner. The medium of communication in our rituals as Africans is the totem system, a matter that may explain the incessant poverty and backwardness that is occasioned by our failure to recognise our nothingness if our totem system does not assiduously obey and worship the Creator as be-all and end-all.

The totem system has undergone brutal attacks by quarters that have nothing to show for a holiness that is hollow. If we fail to respect and trust ourselves with a heritage that espouses revelatory knowledge and wisdom granted by God, we are not likely to achieve much, noting that God only acts to bless obedience and total surrender to His will that goes back to the covenant he made with our ancestors.

The African belief system that recognises partnership between the dead and the living is fiercely opposed to profanities that are shunned by the totem system. Vices such as incest, prostitution, fornication, homosexuality, paedophilia, bestiality, among others, are condemnable in the eyes of the high moral and ethical bar attached to the totem system.

The sanctity of marriage where the nucleus family and the extended family offer hope for a peaceful and prosperous nation is traced to the sacredness of the totem system, and further traced to God’s desire for orderly socio-economic systems that edify His most precious creation, the human being.

Human shortcomings that have seen marriages between people of the same totem are sanitised through some ritual that seeks to break the curse of what loosely amounts to in-breeding. Totemism is directly related to genealogy, and drives a world-view that is shaped by lessons derived from experiences passed down from generation to generation.

The all-time rich manual as bequeathed in African sayings are a cross pollination of experiences and ideas from different totems and constitute a reservoir of hindsight, insight, and foresight of the African people. The generation of original ideas that create plans, projects, programs, and businesses must take leaf from the genesis of the totem system that is anchored on self awareness, self worth, self pride, self dignity, self integrity, self honour, and self identity.

Depressing and unfortunate utterances that are vented by some hailing from the Christian fraternity of the Pentecostal stable relegate totemism to the world of ignorance, darkness and paganism. While in the past Africans understood why the white Caucasians despised anything that symbolized African strength in terms of ingenuity, creativity, integrity, as embedded in their knowledge and belief system, it is curious that Africans are now taking it upon themselves to perfect the ills of a supremacist ego run along race and colour lines.

Typical of the African belief system that neither canvasses for membership nor berates other belief systems such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha’i Faith, Confucianism, among others, we are stranded for explanation as to why fellow Africans attack their own ancestry, especially in circumstances where the Zimbabwean Constitution guarantees freedom of worship.

Integral to our belief system that assists us as Africans in tracing our roots as a proud and dignified race is the immense respect we accord totemism, with God as the author of every breath that drives our lives. African spirituality and biblical culture, given their due weight as paragons of moral authority, can easily be mistaken for Siamese twins.

The richness of our culture, measured in African Proverbs that are a rare show of intellect and wisdom, needs harnessing, nurturing, and reviving, with totemism given its due worth as definitive of who we are as black Zimbabweans. Indeed, our understanding of the Bible is one of complementarity as opposed to conflict, and we feel greatly favoured of the mercies of the Most High.

African spirituality believes in hard and honest work as worth blessing by God, and does not believe in miraculous riches that are supposedly hand outs by the God that blesses sweat, integrity, and honour.

  • Chief Kamba holds the Makoni chieftaincy in Manicaland

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