African Totems: Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Environmental Conservation


  • K.L. Lucy Mandillah Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kakamega
  • Georges-Ivo Ekosse University of Venda, Thohoyandou



conservation, environment, natural resources, symbolism, totem


Sustainable development, a development that meets the needs of the present with­out compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, has eluded most developing nations in the world today. The world’s countries inlude the devel­oped and developing nations where most African nations fit into the latter category. Attempts have been made to explain the circumstances under which African countries are striving to develop, but the role of Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) in the entire process has not been exhaustively explored. Indigenous people have responded to ecological and development challenges by using the cultures and knowledge systems transmitted through their indigenous languages. The aim of this paper was to investi­gate how totems, as cultural belief systems, have been used in Africa to promote the conservation of natural resources. Qualitative methods (based on literature) were used to explore the values and perceptions that underlie the use of totems. The information was collected by reviewing some literature on African culture and totems from Kenya and South Africa. The literature reviewed concentrated on the cultural symbolism at­tached to totems among different tribes which were randomly selected from the two countries. Data was analyzed through content analysis and presented thematically. It was found that animal, plant and insect totems in Kenya and South Africa have sym­bolic meanings attached to them. The symbolic meanings are usually accompanied by taboos believed to have special spiritual and cultural associations. Due to these cultural associations and taboos, totems are protected against harm by the respective tribes, conserving species diversity and ecosystem diversity. The study recommends that there is a need to appreciate the cultural values and beliefs that help in sustainable development. Findings of the study could add value to the existing body of knowledge on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) relating to the management and preserva­tion of indigenous knowledge produced in Africa for sustainable development.




How to Cite

Mandillah, K. L., & Ekosse, G.-I. (2018). African Totems: Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Environmental Conservation. Conservation Science in Cultural Heritage, 18(1), 201–218.