I’ve noticed that when at social gatherings, if someone wants to emphasis something they use one’s totem (mutupo). It is a source of pride for many people, myself included. But lately, I’ve been curious, where did my totem come from? What does it mean? Why is my totem moyo ndizvo (heart) when someone else is shumba (lion) or dhuve (zebra)? Who decided which clan gets what totem? I say clan because for generations my family has been moyo ndizvo. Why does a totem not change? Why can’t I be moyo ndizvo today and tomorrow be a sinyoro?
Totems (mutupo) are used to identify the different clans that make up different lineages. The mutupo of each clan is inherited by all descendants of that family. Usually symbols such as animal names or organs of human beings are used to represent the totem. These provide the “social identity” of the clan. Every Shona clan is identified by a particular mutupo and each mutupo has praise poetry. This is a speech that is attached to that particular totem and is usually used when one is praising or thanking a person of that totem. Totems are popular among the Shona people as they unite and identify people by their origins.
Totems are very important and marriages among people of the same totems are discouraged.
This is because people who share a totem can be regarded as family even though a blood relationship does not exist. For a marriage between two people of the same totem to go through and be successful, suitors give a white cow to the bride’s family. Mombeyechekaukama (Cow of ending a relationship). It must be a white cow. A pure white cow is not so easy to get so my reasoning is that by getting the young man to look for one, he can acknowledge just how frowned upon it is to marry within one’s totem.
I’ve included my praise poetry below. I’m still working on getting an accurate English translation…
Vakadzi vachiza vomene
Vari urozvi Nhandare
Vachuru chamapfunde manji
muzinda wen ’ombe
Mupfudze wa nyan ’ombe
Vane mudzi unobva mabvazuva uchinobaya
Vakapera nhenda mudzimbahhwe
Muti unokope chirimo
Svine nzungu inosvitsa dakataka
Zvirume zvichiringa pasi
Dyembeu, kurima kwakona
Kutandavara, mvura inobva mubvumbi
Asina kuvindukira anowana zvapera
Mupfudze uri mudanga
Vedombo rakakona chimwango
Ndove tinodzurura mumba
Muswe ndewe Nhawo