Nothing primitive about use of totems

Chief Donald Kamba Tracing African Roots
TO do justice to what “totem” means, reference is made to definitions as found in some dictionaries. A totem is defined by the Collins Concise English dictionary as “among primitive peoples, an animal or natural object considered to be related by blood to a given family or clan and taken as its symbol”.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Vol II N-Z) defines a totem as, “The hereditary mark, emblem, or badge of a tribe, clan, or group of Indians, consisting of a figure or representation of some animal, less commonly a plant or other natural object, after which the group is named; also applied to the animal or natural object itself, considered to be ancestrally or fraternally related to the clan”.

Anthropologists have extended totem to refer to “other savage peoples or tribes, which (though they may not use totem symbols) are similarly divided into groups or clans named after animals”.

A totem pole, according to the Collins Concise English dictionary, is “A pole or post carved and painted with totems, often erected in front of their dwellings, by Indian tribes of northwestern N America”.

The English dictionaries that I am aware of have not made reference to the wide usage of the totem system in Africa, save to say that totem “has been extended to other savage peoples or tribes”.

Only in March 1995 did the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English drop “savage peoples or tribes” from the definition.

In the light of the pioneering definitions above, it appears that Caucasians that appear to always imagine a past that gives them a prestigious rating in relation to other races tend to belittle or condemn whatever is lacking in their own history, culture, and ideology.

The concept of, and strength in diversity, must go beyond tokenism, and offer insight into the amazing lessons found in differences of thought processes and the thoughts that incubate ideas that matter.

It is pertinent, and only proper to understand the significance of totems in historical, cultural and philosophical terms.

Of significance is exogamy, the custom of marrying only one of a different totem or totem clan.

Totemism thus refers to “the use of totems, with the clan division, and the social, marriage, and religious customs connected with it” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)

Totemic animals are animals that depict one’s totem, considered sacred and not to be eaten by those that use it as their totem.

Totemism Boosts Self Esteem. Africans in general and Zimbabweans in particular relish the idea of being greeted by way of their totems.

“How are you Gushungo, Makadii Gushungo?”

“How are you Eland? Makadii Mhofu?”

“How are you Lion? Makadii Shumba?”

“How are you Buffalo? Makadii Nyati?”

There is talk in some circles, especially among some religious sects to the effect that totems are not only unimportant but are also a nuisance to the point of being demonic.

It is thus worth our while as a nation to explain the desirability or lack thereof in attaching importance to totems and the totem system.

We also need to understand why totems are hot properties in matters of sanctifying marriages, promoting peaceful coexistence, and preventing violence and extremism.

In the searches that seek to qualify the totem system as an enviable way of living properly ordered lives, we must also examine ways in which totems unify people for the national, even regional good.

Indeed, the need to cite the disadvantages or weaknesses, if any, of the totem system, becomes necessary.

To be continued

Chief Donald Kamba holds the Makoni chieftancy in Manicaland

A totem is defined by the Collins Concise English dictionary as “among primitive peoples, an animal or natural object considered to be related by blood to a given family or clan and taken as its symbol”.

3,562 total views, no views today