Pub. date: 2009 | Online Pub. Date: January 26, 2009 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412964623 | Print ISBN: 9781412936361 | Online ISBN: 9781412964623| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Molefi Kete Asante
In Africa, a totem (mitupo in the Shona language of Zimbabwe) is any animal or object that is considered a guardian, protector, or assistant to an ethnic group, clan, or family. An African totem is identified with a kinship or descent lineage. When the apical ancestor of a kinship group is nonhuman, it is called a totem. Many African ethnic groups or clans claim their descent from animals such as antelopes, monkeys, lions, horses, dogs, eagles, or leopards. When a group presents itself to the world, it normally represents itself through a totemic narrative that explains how the particular people emerged from the kindness, fortune, tenderness, wisdom, or courage of a particular nonhuman animal. Although the term totem originates in the language of the Ojibwa ethnic group of Native Americans, because there is a similar response to the environment and descent narratives among Africans and other people, the word totem ...