If I asked you “What’s your totem?” you’d probably think I was on some strange medication. But if you ask that same question to the warm and friendly Zimbabweans who we meet on safari, every one of them will proudly tell you theirs.
Totems have been in the African culture from time immemorial. Totems identify the different clans that historically made up the dynasties of their ancient civilization. Today, up to 25 different totems are common among the Shona and the Ndebele people, Zimbabwe’s two major groupings.
Totems in African society demonstrate the close relationship between people, animals and the environment. Totems are usually a wild animal but can also be body parts like heart and lung, plants, a force of nature like rain or water, a reptile, fish, a bird or even an essential attribute for survival like power, as in a sword.
Totems are passed down from generation to generation and define your kinship. You are expected to live your life according to the attributes of your totem. Those who share the same totem regard each other as being related even though they are not necessarily blood relatives. And, whatever you do, don’t fall in love with someone of the same totem – you can’t marry, even today.
Totems are often credited with being mankind’s earliest conservation behaviors. You see, you are expected to always honour and protect your totem. You would never kill, harm or eat your totem. So, every animal and habitat in the wild is being protected by somebody!
As part of the Tasimba experience, with respect of the ancient culture, on the very first day on safari each guest randomly draws a totem animal. That is your totem for the week. The guides will tell you your totem’s local name and the qualities that mark its behavior. During the course of the week, you will demonstrate those qualities as you learn more and more about your totem.
On the last day in camp, your challenge is to persuade your fellow guests why your totem animal should become the kinship totem of the entire clan that you all have become in the amazing week you have been together. The competition is fierce! (And, in some cases such as between Sibanda (the lion) and Mvu-u (the hippo) from our March 2016 safari, it continues in email salvos to this day!)
The experience of learning and respecting the totems of the local people we meet, as well as your fellow guests, is just one more way in which Tasimba immerses you deeply into Africa, its wildlife, its customs and its wonderful people.