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It is the belief that people are discerned from animals, plants and other natural objects.

-these natural objects are symbolized as totems which are associated with clans/groups of families with common descent (ancestry)

-however, Shona culture’s doesn’t believe that people necessarily originate from animals and other objects but they identify themselves with certain animal species for the purpose of social identity.

-most Bantu people have these totems for instance Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Australian Aborigines.

-Totemism happens to be as old as Shona culture itself-totenism is a key component of the Bantu religious beliefs.

-the French anthropologist Guile Durklein using the functionalist approach contends that totemism is the simplest and most basic form of religion.

-A clan lives on large extended family with its members sharing certain duties and obligations. each clan has its own totem usually animal and animal body parts, the totem acts as a symbol.

-the totem is the emblem of the clan as Durkein puts it ‘ it is its flag I, it’s the sign by which its clan distinguish itself from others’

-Durklein noted that a totem is more than a mere symbol it is rather a religious, sacred symbol.

-Shona society is divided into multiplicity of clans and sub-clans which distinguishes themselves from each other on the basis of totems.

-these use at least 25 identifiable totems Shona society with at least 65 praise names

-the totems include:

shoko, moyo, shava, ngara, gumbo, tsivo-gushungo , gwayi, mbizi. Nzou, Shumba, bonga, nyati, dziva, nheta, beta, garwe, mbeva, mbano, mhembwe, nguruve/humba, shiri, mhara, mhari, mvuu

Shoko/soko has 6 praise names, mukanya, bvudzijena, wachemuka, murehwa, mutadza, Gumere, mudyavevana

-praise names are used to identify a sub-clan

-Moyo, tsivo and Gumbo are not animals but organs of animals.



-it is difficult to explain why the shona people adopted totems, however, from our observations about the functions of totems we can hypothesis.

-it appears totems were a strategy of survival

-it seems from his origin man has drawn inspiration for survival from nature-in any case man is dependent on nature for survival e.g. Food., shelter, clothing, medicine

-man find all solutions to problems from nature

-with the increase in population there was need to have social identity, we saw that the animal kingdom is made up of distinct species of animals others very aggressive and others friendly and others simply shy.

-it may be because of this that the earliest ancestors decided to adopt certain animals as their totems in order to represent the social differentiation that was taking place in their society and they were increasing in numbers.

-particular animals were chosen as totems because of certain attributes which they possessed.

-the attributes were found to be very useful if imitated by human beings

-these attribute made human society more stable and organized to achieve their daily needs e.g monkeys live as a group which translate into a clan/family. Monkeys care for each other and they fight to protect members of their group.

-monkeys have a clear social structure were the younger ones respect the elders

-elephants represent strength i.e the clan is against laziness


1. They are the basis of social identity. They don’t only identify people socially but also historically and culturally. e.g. the study of Shona totems is an avenue in knowing and approximating Shona history, culture and most importantly religion.

2. Totems are important in a society because they are the basis for solidarity and unity. People of the same totem are basically

relatives who share a common ancestry. As a result they always see each other as one.

3. they have a religious function. the belief in totemism emphasis some of the central traits of religion e.g. amongst the Shona totemism is one of the fundamental pillars of their religion. we use totems and praise names 4to communicate to mwari and the departed ones (family spirits)

4. Totenism is an important basis for socialization not only among man but also between man and women. Totenism regulates gender relations. each and every individual through totemic identity is given a particular social position which is respected by members of his / her clan as well as members of other clans.

5. Totems also regulate marriage. Most Bantu people are EXOGAMOUS. A woman can only marry into a different clan where she will be considered Mutorwa.

6. totenism plays an important role in the solving of conflict. In Shona society when people of the same totem wrong each other they are persuaded to forgive each other because they are children of the same clan.- similarly people of different totems are persuaded to solve their differences because of fear of ngozi.

7. Totems also serve as the basis for dividing roles and responsibilities to members of different clans. People negotiate their roles through totems.

8. Totems also regulate the environment. hunting is regulated by clans they do not hunt or eat their totems



-As knowledge form totemism is fast losing its significance although Shona people still identify themselves using totems.

-some of the important rituals and beliefs associated with totems have been abandoned

-all cultural values are found in totems-totenism is a package of values

-it appears that today totenism is a symbol that has been emptied of its contents due to the encroachment and embrace of western cultural values by Africans.

-totenism is an important aspect of Bantu religious beliefs when Christian missionaries came they denigrated African religious beliefs branding them paganist practices.

-with many Africans converting to Christianity with the passage of time the significance of totenism begun to decline

-cases of people with the same totem who marry each other are on the rise.

-elite Africans and their children have totally lost knowledge about totenism and their cultural values in general

-increased physical mobility among Africans means that many have moved from their traditional homes to go to mining and commercial farm areas and cities as they seek employment.

-Africans no longer identify themselves with their clans

-Prostitution, men who indulge in prostitution do not bother to ask about the prostitute’s totem

-in spite of the impact of western culture totenism to some extend is still being celebrated.


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EcoleBooks | TOTEMISM


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