03 September 2017

Blood Of My Blood: My Totem

Today's post was originally going to be extremely short. One paragraph at most. Why, you may ask? Because for once I was writing about a topic that I am not that well versed in, my totem. But then I realised that that is not an excuse. My responsibility as a blogger was to arm myself with (some) knowledge and Game of Thrones references and then, and only then, deign to write the ramblings of my disturbed mind.

The concept of totem is one I knew from an early age. My relatives used to call me a monkey when I was small and as I grew up I came to realise that my surname for the Ndebele people was synonymous with monkey. You see, just as the Great Houses in Game of Thrones, (and more true to real life - European nobility) have coat of arms with animal or floral representations of their houses; in Africa each House has a spirt, or symbol that represents their clan. For the Ndlovu's it is the elephant, for the Nkomo's it is the the cow and for me it is the monkey.

(c) Ian Leino
But it goes way beyond just a name and a symbol for us sub-Saharan Africans. To understand this one has to understand that there are two ways of proving kinship: bloodline or totems. Rukariro Katsande explains that ' Extended family is made up of intricate kinship, with parents, children, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters, all regarding each other as closely related. The word “cousin” does not exist in sub-Saharan languages/dialects, and kinship ends at the nephew and niece level.' And that is only the first part, in addition, those who share the same totem may not get married to each other, or if they do, special ceremonies must first be conducted to break the totemic bond between them; lest their relationship be considered incestual.

Another little known fact is the sacredness of the totem to those whose name it represents. For the most part, a family cannot eat their totem. This means that it is taboo for me to eat monkey meat, and as types of meats go, I am very fine with obeying this rule till the day I die! More research has to be done by me on this totem business for sure, including a few calls home to understand and explain the intricacies of it all but I hope that gave you a glimpse of the fabric of our history and culture.

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