According to Mister Mateo Gallego, the name Totalán is of Arabic origin and means “torta" or “cake”. This theory is based on a series of documents which mention a number of different hamlets known as "Tortela", "Tortila" and "Tortalán", since, as Mister Gallego points out, the area was famed for its production of the pastries that so typified Al-Andalus.
Since then, though no traces of this industry have ever been found here, Totalán has retained its name. Its historic past is similar to that of its neighbouring villages. The earliest recorded references to Totalán mention Iberian settlements, though there is a complete dearth of information from here until the time of the reconquest, when the village appears as a farmstead belonging to the Afoz or district of Málaga. Of much earlier origin is a passage dolmen known as La Tumba del Moro (the Moor’s Tomb) which is an interesting tourist attraction. Discovered by a group of scholars in 1995, legend has it that the tomb of a Muslim leader lies beneath the hill. This, however, is pure myth, since the remains of human bones discovered in the vicinity of the dolmen date back 4,000 years to the same period as the dolmens of Antequera.
In any event, there are a number of other traces of the village’s Arabic past, notably the Torre Salazar, which is located further to the south on a hill overlooking the sea. Its mission was to defend the entrances to the village from the coast, as it formed part of a series of observation posts that stretched along the coastline. Later, in 1492, when it was incorporated into the already-conquered territories of Málaga, came the Torre Totalán. The centre of the village is still intact, a long strip stretching across the foothills of El Ejido. From its highest point, the intricate, compact labyrinth of its streets is clearly apparent, only the 16th century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario standing out, with its red marble column and crypt, behind the Capilla de la Virgen del Rosario, a source of great pride for the people of Totalán.
In Arabic times, the stream must have carried a large volume of water, as records of an “Aceyte” (oil) mill with its stone and accessories suggest that the area was an home to a large number of mills.
In the late 19th century, the village, like so many others, was ravaged by the phylloxera plague, which destroyed most of the vineyards that provided Totalán’s main source of economic sustenance. This period saw many of its inhabitants move to the neighbouring borough of El Palo (now a suburb of the city of Málaga).
However, the largest exodus began in 1940, when the village had 1,377 inhabitants. From the Civil War to the present day, as the population of Totalán has gradually declined, the remaining populace has continued the tradition begun by its ancestors of almond and olive tree cultivation. Small-scale wine production also survives, in the shape of a beverage that is somewhat lighter than its counterpart in Cómpeta. However, the mainstays of the economy are now the construction industry and other fields of activity pursued by the inhabitants of Totalán in nearby Málaga.