Cecil John Rhodes’ Grave Must Go

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When the Rhodes Must Fall movement began in South Africa in March 2015 I followed it with keen interest. This was a movement of students from the University of Cape Town protesting for the removal of a statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes from the university grounds. The students saw the statue as a symbol of the violence of colonialism that had no place in a multi-racial institution of a predominantly black country. They also protested for education to be decolonised and institutional racism addressed within the university structure. The Rhodes Must Fall movement eventually spread across South Africa and internationally, as far as Oxford University.

It was amazing to watch the formerly colonised fearlessly confront the most prominent symbol of colonisation in Southern Africa and loudly call for transformation. It was a revolution sparked by historical injustices that were never rightly solved. The movement quickly achieved victory when the statue was removed from the University of Cape Town within a month. Apparently the symbol of empire could not withstand the pressure of black rage.

Recalling the events of Rhodes Must Fall, I cannot help thinking of Zimbabwe’s own problematic relationship with Cecil Rhodes. It was the Rhodes-owned British South Africa Company that invaded Zimbabwe in 1890 and led to the colonisation and subjugation of indigenous Zimbabweans for almost a century to follow. Rhodes was not content to just occupy the land, he went further and gave this newly-conquered territory his own name, and thus it became known as Rhodesia. A land that had been autonomous and self-governing since ancient times became Cecil Rhodes’s private property virtually overnight. Rhodes felt so entitled to Zimbabwe he even selected to be buried within its soil when he died. This was bad enough but what made it worse was the particular place Rhodes chose as his burial ground – Matopos or Matombo, an area of great significance in indigenous Zimbabwean culture.

Matopos is the most sacred and important site in Zimbabwean spirituality. The local name for Matopos is Njelele, also known as Matonjeni or Mabweadziva. Njelele is a holy shrine that is respected and honoured by most ethnic groups in the country as a place of immense spiritual and ancestral power. It plays many roles and functions – as the leading rainmaking shrine, as a centre of the Mwari (God) religion, as the home of Murenga who is the High Spirit and founding ancestor of most Zimbabweans, and as a place to receive guidance and instruction on matters of national importance. The voice of Mwari is said to echo from its mysterious caves when consulted, although it has gone silent in recent years. Important pre-colonial kings and spirit mediums are also buried there. Matopos is our spiritual headquarters and centre of belief as a land. To have the grave of Rhodes and the graves of his fellow settlers in the midst of our holiest sanctuary is cultural blasphemy of the highest order.

Cecil Rhodes’s presence in our divine shrine is an insult to our ancestors and our spiritual heritage. How can our coloniser be allowed to rest unchallenged in our most sacred space? How can his spirit co-exist alongside our Supreme Being? There can be no greater curse on the land than this heresy. It’s no surprise that chaos and turmoil are now the norm in our nation. The location of Rhodes’s grave has disturbed the equilibrium of our land and upset the ancestral spirits. His grave is a shrine for white supremacists and nostalgic Rhodesians, a site of pilgrimage for racists longing for a return to imperialism. To allow these people repeated access to our ancient shrine because of Rhodes’s grave is an offence that cannot be easily appeased or forgiven. The continued presence of Cecil Rhodes in Matopos is an attack on our cultural identity and a shameful stain on our national conscience that can only be made right with his removal. His remains should not be allowed to continue defiling our holy place any longer.

To really grasp the extent of the desecration of Matopos we must truly understand what Cecil Rhodes represents to us Zimbabweans. Rhodes represents dispossession – the loss of our self-determination, our territorial autonomy and our independence as a people. The arrival of Rhodes’s British South Africa Company into our land was utterly devastating for our existence. We lost our most precious resource – our land, and all the wealth contained within it. Our minerals and raw materials were plundered and looted to enrich a foreign land lacking even a tenth of what we possessed. This same land the settlers took from us was our source of subsistence and nourishment, where we grew the crops that fed us and kept us alive. Our forefathers were forcefully confined to over-crowded reserves with poor soils and harsh climate conditions, while the white minority converted our ancestral lands into capitalist farms for profit.

Even now, 38 years after independence, the issue of land has still not been adequately addressed. There is still lingering inequality and frustration linked to the question of land in Zimbabwe, and the land reform process has been troubled since its inception. There is sad irony in the way we are struggling to redistribute what historically belongs to us. We have also failed to properly manage and channel our abundant natural resources since independence. Zimbabwe has failed to regain its trading and economic glory of pre-colonial times. Our once majestic land now looks East and West for foreign help to survive. The roots of all this can be traced back to 1890, when Rhodes and his settlers seized what was rightfully ours and dispossessed an entire nation.

Dispossession is not all Cecil Rhodes represents, he is also symbolic of oppression. The years of Rhodesian white minority rule were a time of great brutality and cruelty for black Zimbabweans. Blacks were dehumanised, stripped of their rights and dignity, unfairly taxed and forced to provide labour for white Rhodesians in conditions no different to slavery. They were routinely harassed, imprisoned and treated with extreme violence. Many black Zimbabweans were killed in the First Chimurenga uprising against settler rule of 1896, including spiritual leaders like Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi. Our forefathers faced discrimination and exclusion on a devastating scale. They became inferior citizens in their own land because of the intersection of racism and fascism represented by Cecil Rhodes and his comrades.

Ironically when black majority rule was finally achieved in 1980, this same oppression was inherited by the new black leaders of the nation. The repression, brutality and silencing of the majority was so entrenched in Zimbabwean institutions and political culture that the leaders of independent Zimbabwe simply continued what the Rhodesians had started. Rhodes left us a legacy of oppressive rule and injustice that is yet to be uprooted from our governance system, a legacy that continues to disempower the majority while the elite few benefit from their position and privilege.

But it does not end there – Rhodes further symbolises cultural alienation. The coming of colonisation led to the crippling loss of our indigenous ways and the destruction of our rich and complex identity as Zimbabweans. Our communal values such as hunhu/ubuntu were erased and replaced by Western values of greed, materialism, narcissism and ruthless ambition. Our indigenous knowledge was deemed inferior and replaced with European philosophies that clashed with our worldview and did not fit our environment. Our traditions and customs were labelled savage and primitive compared to European norms.

The coloniser made us believe that anything originating from us was wrong, evil and negative. Even our physical features were labelled ugly and animalistic – our skin was not pale enough, our hair was too coarse, our noses too broad and our women’s figures too voluptuous to be beautiful. We were told our language was backward and unsophisticated compared to the white man’s language. Our spirituality was labelled demonic and wicked. Our spiritual beliefs were reduced to mere superstition at best, and devilish witchcraft at worst.

This colonial alienation disconnected us from our truth and our source. We learned to hate the reflection of ourselves we saw mirrored in each other’s traumatised faces and eyes. We learned to despise anything born from us, or belonging to us. We disowned our mother tongue for an illegitimate language that orphaned us each time we spoke it. We turned our self-hatred on our skin, burning it away with corrosive chemicals to expose the raw flesh underneath, so we could resemble the coloniser we had grown to idolise so completely. And, worst of all, we abandoned our Creator and our ancestors for the blonde, blue-eyed God that missionaries once forced us to accept. And here we are today – a nation of happy hostages stubbornly refusing any cure for our Stockholm Syndrome.

Truthfully we have no right to call ourselves a post-colonial nation as long as the bones of Cecil Rhodes continue to lie in our sacred place. For as long as Rhodes remains entombed in our holy hills we remain colonised spiritually and culturally. No amount of revenue gained or tourist numbers are worth the soul and dignity of our land. The time has come to do away with excuses and justifications and face the radical truth. The ghost of Rhodes has no place in an independent Zimbabwe. He must be exorcised and expelled from our land with immediate effect. We must follow the South African example and make him leave. Now.

 

 

 

 

 

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Zimbabwe Inyika Yemhondoro: A Reminder

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The phrase “Zimbabwe inyika yemhondoro” (Zimbabwe belongs to the royal ancestors) comes from the legendary musician Thomas Mapfumo, who recently returned to Zimbabwe for a historic concert after 14 years of self-imposed exile in the United States. He shared this statement on Twitter two years ago. Thomas Mapfumo is certainly qualified to make this statement. His genre of music, Chimurenga, borrows its name from the two liberation wars fought against colonial rule by Zimbabweans in 1896-97 and 1966-1979 respectively.

The name Chimurenga itself is based on Murenga Sororenzou, the founding ancestor and High Spirit of most people known as Shona today (who were originally called the Mbire). Murenga was the inspiration and guiding spirit behind both wars of liberation, thus they were named after him. They were Murenga’s wars, to paraphrase A. Chigwedere. Therefore Chimurenga is not just a political or social phenomenon, it is equally spiritual in nature. It is an ancestral war first and foremost, but many seem to forget this.

In light of this assertion, Mapfumo’s statement about Zimbabwe being a land of mhondoro (senior ancestral spirits) becomes highly significant. For Zimbabweans to live free from direct colonial oppression it was due to the guidance and inspiration of Murenga and the mhondoro spirits and their mediums such as Nehanda, Kaguvi, Mukwati, Chaminuka, and the Njelele priests and priestesses in the Matopo Hills. For Zimbabwe to have the appearance of independence that it currently has, it was the intervention and participation of the ancestral realm that led to victory over the invaders. For us to have the freedom to be the culturally colonised and Westernised people that we are now, it is the ancestors and the spirits that made it possible.

But in typical human fashion as soon as we were released from the bondage of European colonialism we forgot the source of our emancipation. We showed little gratitude to the ancient ones who led us to victory over the oppressor. Our egos eventually made us believe it was mostly our own doing and mostly a human effort that unchained us from settler domination. Our arrogance took over and we thought naming buildings and hospitals after the spirit mediums that guided our uprisings was enough. We allowed their bones to languish in unmarked graves and foreign lands while we gave ourselves the honour of being buried at the Heroes Acre. Our human superiority made us relegate the architects of our revolutions to secondary positions – we turned them into background figures of only ceremonial importance and saw nothing wrong with this. Our human aspirations took precedence over the will of our guardians in the heavens.

While we were in the process of forsaking our ancestral spirits, another strange thing was also happening. We were transforming into the colonisers we had overthrown. We rapidly and shamelessly took on the settler’s language, mannerisms, interests and behaviour. We discarded our ways of knowing and embraced the invader’s academic and intellectual knowledge systems. We accepted the stranger’s values and ethics as if they were our own, while undermining our indigenous moral codes and principles without a second thought.

But, most shocking of all, we decided there was nothing wrong with worshipping and adopting the coloniser’s God. We completely turned our backs on our spiritual ways, which were rooted in our traditions and unique culture, to seek salvation in the oppressor’s religion – a religion we once fiercely resisted but now gladly welcomed. We abandoned our shrines and sacred places for churches and houses of God that had no room for our own Creator. And then the unthinkable happened – under the influence of this colonial religion we began to denounce our ancestors as demons and evil spirits. The same ancestors who had assisted and led us in our fight for liberation were now wicked spirits to be cursed and cast out in the name of a saviour who had no link to our environment or cultural context. The irony was too much. Our post-colonial colonisation was complete – we were now officially more Rhodesian than the original Rhodesians themselves. Cecil John Rhodes must have been partying in his grave.

Sadly our arrogance blinded us to the true nature of reality and our place in the larger scheme of things. It made us believe we were invincible and untouchable, that we could do whatever we wanted without facing any consequences or repercussions. But that’s not how the law of karma works. It’s that same arrogance that brought us to where we are now as a nation. Fragmented, divided, confused, chaotic and bankrupt – both morally and economically. Our arrogant behaviour and collective superiority complex has brought our land to its knees. Our self-centredness has wreaked havoc with our beloved country. Almost four decades after achieving ‘independence’ we are in a pathetic state. And the colonial God we chose over our guardian spirits has not been able to save us or heal us. How surprising.

The truth is only the true owners of the land can rebuild and restore our nation: the departed ones, our ancestors in the skies. We may have rejected them, but they are still in full control of the land and its affairs. We must understand that this land, Zimbabwe, does not belong to any human being. Zimbabwe is not anyone’s personal property, no one has ownership of this land except the ancient spirits in the heavens. No ruler, no political party, no group owns this country. The government itself is governed by higher forces, whether it knows it or not. The ancestors are the only ones with complete and legitimate jurisdiction over this land.  The sooner we realise this the better off we will be.

The reason we are suffering and struggling currently is because the ancestors have withdrawn their support and guidance from us. They did this as retaliation for our rejection of them and their ways. Our ancestors hold the power to transform our situation and resurrect our land, but we have to first humble ourselves. We need to be willing to cleanse the land from all the negativity and immorality that has taken root over the years. We need to properly thank the spirits for their role in guiding, defending and sustaining our nation. Most importantly we need to return our land back to its rightful owners – our departed elders, our forefathers and foremothers, our ancestral guardians in the heavens. We can choose to remain stubborn and ignore the voices of our ancestors, but that can only lead to further destruction and suffering. We should instead seek to appease their anger and realign ourselves with them. Our ancestors govern this land and there is no way we can ever prosper without them. Thomas Mapfumo knew what he was talking about, we need to heed his words for our land to rise.

 

Our Identity As Spiritual Beings In Relation To Chivanhu

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From the dawn of colonialism onward there has been a tendency to view indigenous spirituality, or chivanhu, as superstitious and lacking the spiritual depth of other world religions. The impact of missionary doctrine and Western colonial views about traditional religion created a belief that our spirituality was shallow, stereotypical and primitive, and that Zimbabwean people were not capable of being spiritual in a deeper, more soulful sense. Our spirituality, or chivanhu, was seen as a practice that was surface and superficial, that failed to reach and transform the inner person within. Sadly many of us accepted this false and racist view of our spiritual beliefs and turned to colonial religions that promised a truer and deeper faith that spoke to the soul. But the true essence of who we are spiritually can only be located in our ways and our identity as Zimbabweans. We need to go beyond a narrow ritualistic understanding of our indigenous beliefs and reclaim the mystical essence of our beings in relation to our spirituality. This may sound complex but it’s not, it’s simply a matter of remembering ourselves.

Remembering that our ancestors and ancestral spirits are not the only spiritual beings within our particular Zimbabwean universe. We, the living, are also made of spirit stuff. We are not simply flesh and bone, we contain higher energies within us. Our indigenous spirituality says our bodies consist of a physical outer part, as well as a part made of mweya or mhepo. In literal terms these two words mean air or wind, but metaphorically they refer to our souls or spirits. This second part of our being is the inner person, the part that is not from this world. The only difference between us and our ancestors is they have graduated to the next level while we are still learning our lessons here in the land of the living, but the essence is the same. We are souls dressed in flesh.

We must also remember our origins, not just in terms of our lineage or ancestry or ethnicity, but in terms of where we originally came from – Musikavanhu, the Creator. We are created beings. This means we are divine by nature because we originated from the most Divine Being of all. If Mwari or Musikavanhu is the Supreme Being then by extension we are also supreme in our human existence by virtue of being Mwari’s creations. In our spirituality the Creator is largely a distant deity that cannot be approached directly because of the nature of his or her divinity, but this does not change the fact that our existence is from Musikavanhu and we contain the divine essence within us. We are Mwari’s seeds. We must always keep this in mind as we move through this physical world that often seeks to oppress and degrade us.

Our remembering must elevate us from a lower perspective rooted in the things of this Earth – and all the struggles, challenges and conditions that are part of it – to a higher perspective focused on the heavens, kumatenga. We do this because we are sons and daughters of the heavens. The world above is where the ancestors and ancient ones dwell, varikumhepo have their home in the skies. We need to stop thinking of the heavens as a place up there, instead we should cultivate a sense of the heavens everywhere we are. We do this by being conscious of our connection to the spirit world and to our ancestors and guardians in the skies. In so doing we remember that we are assisted, guided and watched by higher forces constantly and this affirms us with a sense of peace, strength and guidance as we journey through life. We must seek to always be aligned with the heavens because the world above and the world below are linked on a sacred level, and the decisions made in the heavens have a direct effect on the land of the living. If we pay close attention we can see the signs and messages from the heavens all around us.

To view ourselves through a more spiritual rather than physical lens enables us to embody the principles of hunhu in a practical way. Hunhu, which can broadly be defined as goodness, comprises qualities such as empathy, kindness, generosity, compassion and respect, among others. Living in a world full of negativity, aggression and violence can make it hard for people to manifest hunhu in their daily lives because of the conflict and struggle around them. But if we viewed our situations and circumstances from a more spiritual angle it would become easier to do. If we could see each other in terms of our spiritual nature, see past the exterior into the spirit within, instead of just as vanhu or humans, our perceptions of one another would shift. It’s much easier to understand and relate to a person if you’re going beyond their physical form and dealing with the undying essence of their being, mweya wake. In such a situation hunhu becomes more of a possibility and a natural manifestation than an unreality.

The remembrance of our true nature, our spiritual identity, serves as a means to free ourselves from our often painful attachment to this earthly life, by reminding us that this human experience is only a small phase in an eternal journey. Our human lives are short-lived temporary events that offer powerful lessons for our growth, but we often become too attached to our physical lives at the expense of our spirits. Seeing ourselves through the lens of chivanhu reminds us of the future lives that await us in nyikadzimu, the spirit world or ancestral realm. Knowing that our human form will eventually transform into a higher state, and we will inhabit a sacred world beyond this planet when we die, helps us to transcend the trials and challenges of life through gaining an eternal perspective. This life is not our final destination, there is a far more beautiful home waiting for us if our lives are rooted in hunhu while here on Earth.

As we journey through this human life it is important for us to remember that we are not just physical beings. Tiri mhepo, we are wind passing through on our way back to our origins.

 

Gombwe: A Most Sacred Spirit

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When I heard the title of Winky D’s new album ‘Gombwe’ I was fascinated. As someone who is passionate about traditional spirituality I knew a gombwe was an important spirit in our cultural beliefs, so when I heard the popular artist had given this name to his album my attention was captured. Unlike others who were busy speculating about whether the album would be a success or a flop, or if it would surpass his previous offerings or fail to live up to the hype, I was busy wondering what his motivations and intentions were in naming it Gombwe. Was he a genuine believer in traditional spirituality or was it just another way to add to the myth of Winky D by exploiting an important indigenous concept? Did he respect and honour the spirits or was he actually degrading them by comparing himself to such a powerful entity? Whatever the reasons behind him naming his new project Gombwe were, I was happy he had made the term mainstream and a trending topic in Zimbabwe. Taking note of this I decided to take a closer look at the concept and significance of the gombwe spirit in our Zimbabwean spirituality.

Many people mistakenly believe that a gombwe is the most powerful or greatest ancestral spirit in the ancestral hierarchy, but this is not the case. A gombwe is not an ancestral spirit because it never existed in human form, it was never a living person therefore it cannot be a mudzimu or ancestor. A gombwe is a spirit that was created by Mwari, the Creator, for an important purpose and comes directly from Mwari. This spirit never existed as a physical person and never died, it existed from beyond time and humanity as a creation of Mwari. So what is a gombwe then? A gombwe can be likened to an archangel of the Divine, a very powerful angelic being that emanates directly from the Deity. A gombwe is a divine spirit but not an ancestral spirit. Takawira Kazembe refers to gombwe spirits as “divine angels” or “angels of God.” Another way to define the gombwe is “super-mhondoro”, a term put forward by Chirevo Kwenda. He places this super-mhondoro in a category of divinities higher in status than clan spirits and positioned immediately below the high God Mwari. He states that these spirits are not associated with any specific dynasty and are regarded as spirits that are emanations of the high God.

In terms of the spiritual hierarchy the gombwe is the highest spirit and the nearest to Mwari. The gombwe is just below, or just next to, Mwari in the hierarchy and is higher than mhondoro and vadzimu who operate at clan and family level respectively. This makes gombwe the most powerful spirit in the spiritual hierarchy, greater than all other spirits and energies except Mwari. Ordinary mhondoro and ancestor spirits all bow down and give respect to the gombwe because they are lower in rank. A spirit medium of a gombwe is also the highest or most senior medium among all spirit mediums, and is accorded the greatest respect. A medium for a gombwe fits the role of a high priest/priestess or a prophet, and is of higher rank than an ordinary svikiro or spirit medium. Since a gombwe spirit is not of human origin it does not belong to any lineage, clan or family and does not have a totem. The gombwe is trans-tribal, meaning it is not limited to any particular tribe but operates across the whole land or nyika. It is a spirit in the truest sense of the word, beyond human categories and boundaries. The gombwe also mostly deals with collective issues rather than individual matters, although it still has influence in the individual realm.

In terms of the role of a gombwe it is “a messenger of God that reports to God and receives and transmits God’s wishes”, according to Takawira Kazembe. He asserts that the gombwe pleads with God in prayer on behalf of the people and intervenes between God and the people. He states that the gombwe has the means for atonement and intercession with both the world of the spirits and the world of the living. Therefore the main role of a gombwe is to be a mediator between the heavens and the earth below, sending messages from Mwari to the human population and vice versa. A gombwe acts as a go-between and intercessor that represents the desires and grievances of people to Mwari and also relays Mwari’s desires back to the living. The gombwe also performs other functions but the mediator role is its most prominent. This same role is what makes a gombwe very rare, it cannot be found just anywhere and does not possess just any medium. The appearance of a gombwe is a rarity that does not occur often.

It is claimed that Chaminuka, Nehanda and Kaguvi are gombwe spirits. These are very sacred and revered spirits of Zimbabwe that are believed to be eternal and angelic in nature, without human lineage and originating directly from Mwari. They are timeless spirits that possess great powers and are supreme in the spiritual hierarchy since they were created and not born. The spirits of Nehanda and Chaminuka (through their human incarnations) were said to have guided ancient Zimbabweans as they journeyed from East and North-East Africa down to present-day Zimbabwe thousands of years ago, meaning they were true gombwe spirits that existed since the eternal past and not ancestor spirits of persons who once lived and died. There is also a belief by various spirit mediums that the spirit Nehanda has been around since the beginning of life on Earth, according to T. Kazembe.

The three above-mentioned gombwe have played significant and transformative roles in the spiritual and socio-cultural life of Zimbabwe, as divine spirits and through their spirit mediums in different capacities across the ages. They deserve our highest respect and veneration, and are meant to be constantly invoked and approached for guidance in issues that affect our land and lives, since they have direct access to the Creator and can intercede on our behalf. We need to bring the necessity and significance of the gombwe back into the public consciousness and reawaken their energies for the greater good of the land and future generations. We must reclaim our sacred spirits and restore our connection to the Divine once more. There is no other way for us to rise as a people.

 

Guruuswa: The Origin And The Genesis

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The past two years of my life have been characterised by a deep desire for meaning – a meaning not defined by external events or happenings, but rather rooted in something higher. This search for meaning beyond the ordinary and everyday began as an inner restlessness in my early years which nothing seemed to appease. It eventually grew into an intense hunger for a sense of identity that was not socially defined or materially constructed. I was searching for something intangible and metaphysical, maybe even mystical.

This search eventually transformed me from a non-believer to a traveller on a spiritual journey of finding authentic meaning. This ongoing journey has increasingly pulled me in the direction of my indigenous Zimbabwean culture, and especially my culture’s spirituality. Gradually this search for meaning has taken the form of wanting to experience a sense of home that has nothing to do with houses or family relations, but instead builds an understanding of my true place in this world. This ultimately led me to my origins beyond this time and space in a legendary place called Guruuswa.

According to Tabona Shoko, Guruuswa is the place of origin of the Shona people (the term ‘Shona’ is controversial because of its colonial roots), located to the north of the Zambezi river. Chirevo Kwenda locates Guruuswa in the grasslands  of the African Great Lakes region (East-Central Africa), while James L. Cox writes of an oral tradition that places it in Tanganyika (Tanzania). Guruuswa means ‘long grass’ or ‘tall grass’ since it was an area of grassy plains and expansive grassland. It is the place where most present-day Shona people originate from and came into being as a people, their historical birthplace. According to A. Chigwedere the Shona were known as the Mbire during that time, named after their earliest remembered ancestor Mambiri. Mambiri was the father of Tovera whose son was Murenga Sororenzou, who is believed to be the founding ancestor of the Shona-Mbire. Chigwedere states that it was the Mbire group that gave the name Tanganyika to the country now known as Tanzania and to Lake Tanganyika, with Tanganyika meaning ‘our first country’.

Guruuswa represents the concept of origins in both an actual and metaphoric sense, a real and symbolic way. Although Guruuswa as a place is closely tied with the history of many Zimbabweans, its definition appears to be far broader and more universal than just Zimbabwe, according to David Lan. He writes of the belief among the Shona that Guruuswa is the point of origin of all life, and the source of natural life. It is said to be the place where every living thing comes from and the source of social and biological life. Lan further asserts that it is where everything comes from – ancestors, all men, all animals and all plants. Chirevo Kwenda writes of the mythical reference to Guruuswa as the place of origin of all humanity. Therefore Guruuswa is not just an area of origin of a particular ethnic group, but of all humankind and all forms of life, even though it largely exists in the oral tradition of Zimbabwe. This concept of Guruuswa being the place of origin of all life is interesting if we compare it with the widely accepted theory of human evolution which states that humans originated in East Africa, where Guruuswa is believed to have been located.

Beyond being a historical place of origin, Guruuswa also carries important symbolic value, as detailed by David Lan. He describes Guruuswa as representing female fertility and the maternal role of mother. This is because the ‘long grass’ of its name is not real grass but the hair that grows in the pubic region of the human female. It is the vagina, the source of biological life, the place of birth. It represents being born and coming into existence from the fertile waters of maternity. In this case Guruuswa ceases to be a geographical place and instead becomes a symbol of human origin in the most organic sense.

It is also the place where the ancestors come from and the home of the ancestors, according to Lan. Guruuswa is a world of beginnings, of fathers and founders of families, a world of firsts and bests, states Maurice Vambe. It is where the forefathers and foremothers, the highest ancestral figures of the children of Zimbabwe, came into being. This elevates Guruuswa from simply being a historical land into a spiritual realm with much ancestral significance. To know Guruuswa is to know the world of the ancestors, a sacred domain that is more than just a genealogical starting point. Guruuswa carries the energy of ancestors and lineages, and therefore it resides in the genes of many Zimbabweans today. We carry our origins encoded in our DNA.

Nowadays when I think of the meaning of home Guruuswa increasingly comes to mind, not in a physical or geographical sense, but as a metaphor for an original state of being. To me Guruuswa represents my beginnings – it is the primordial womb out of which I emerged, the divine mother that birthed me into existence. More and more I feel that womb calling me to return, to remember where I came from so I can know where I am headed. My remembrance of Guruuswa is the umbilical cord that connects me to the ancient ones in the heavens, my ancestral lineage. As I make my inner journey back to Guruuswa I feel myself reconnecting with my ancestry and the voices of my history, I can feel past lives coming to meet me in the present.

The same way my ancestors migrated out of Guruuswa coming to the land that is now Zimbabwe is the way I feel my own soul migrating back to that sacred land of high grass. To return to Guruuswa is to return to my most natural and pure self, the original me. A self that is rooted, cultured, timeless, and knows itself without any crisis of identity. Guruuswa is where my higher self lives, my divine self that channels the immortal energy of those who walked before me. Guruuswa is the eternal moment where the unborn self meets the departed ones and conquers the illusion of earthly time. In the memory of journeying back to Guruuswa the present version of me comes face to face with undying beings like Mambiri, Tovera, Murenga, Chaminuka, Nehanda and Mushavatu. These are the founders and pioneers whose ageless spirits no Pioneer Column could ever conquer. In Guruuswa the earth and the heavens become one, the past and the future unite in a land that will never die. In remembering Guruuswa I remember myself. I honour my beginnings and my origins, and in so doing I reconnect with the sacred self that I had forgotten and lost. And I return home to myself, finally.

 

Finding the Divine Feminine In My Own Religion

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God was always a foreign concept to me, literally and metaphorically. What I knew of God came from what I heard and read about him. I knew he was too holy to be questioned or doubted, that he was an extremely jealous and possessive God and, from the pictures I saw of him, I knew he was European. And of course I knew God was a man, and could only be a man. God was male in the most extreme sense of the word. He was a powerful white man prone to destructive rages who demanded my complete submission and surrender. It was almost as if God was a metaphor for Cecil John Rhodes and the system he imposed on my country in 1890, but I digress.

Maybe this foreignness of God is why I never felt any real connection to him. I did all the necessary things to communicate and connect with him – I prayed on my knees, read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, sang hymns and worship songs with zeal, and spoke in ‘tongues’ in moments of religious ecstasy. But for some reason God remained more of a theory than a tangible essence in my life. I understood God on an intellectual level but my soul was dead to him, nailed to a cross of indifference. There was no intimacy, no closeness, there was no common ground on which I could meet God and see myself in him, or feel his being in me in a truly spiritual sense. My relationship with God was robotic, mechanical, a connection born from conditioning rather than natural attraction. I kept waiting for my Damascus moment but nothing happened internally. In the words of A.M. Clifford, I was one of the African women who found it hard to experience God as empowering and liberating. And then, when I least expected it, I discovered God was an African woman.

It was in the process of decolonising my spiritual beliefs that I stumbled on information that referred to the Zimbabwean High God, Mwari, as having both a male and female nature. As a Zimbabwean woman I was stunned to learn this. In all my years of existence I had never heard or come across this concept until now. I was so shocked I found it hard to believe. I figured it was one of those outlandish theories you sometimes encounter in the study of religions and beliefs, and decided not to take it seriously. But I kept coming across more and more references to this same concept, until I realised there had to be truth in it. For someone who had only grown up exposed to the holy patriarchy of a male God, meeting a God that was my gender in my own indigenous spirituality was a truly divine experience.

Mickias Musiyiwa, in his important essay ‘Shona Religion And Women’s Justice In Modern Zimbabwe’, speaks of the “female-male attributes of Mwari”. He states that in Mwari’s interaction with men and women Mwari has both feminine and masculine attributes and, in reality, more feminine than masculine. Musiyiwa details how in many Shona prayers Mwari is addressed as both amai (mother) and baba (father), and in some prayers Mwari is addressed as grandmother. He also makes reference to the Mwari cult which is based in the Matopo Hills, and how the ‘voice’ of the High God in the cult speaks through a human medium, usually an elderly woman, which further associates Mwari with the feminine.

Isabel Mukonyora writes about Shona religion having “a woman-oriented religious language”. She states that the High God or Goddess, Mwari, is male with a female dimension, and that Mwari’s messages are considered divine and feminine. She goes on to say that Mwari represents the ‘Mother of the Nation’ in traditional logic, and further speaks of the woman-centered practice of Mwari worship. Like M. Musiyiwa she also makes reference to how the ‘voice’ of Mwari is mainly proclaimed by women in the rituals of the Mwari cult.

The concept of God among the Shona incorporates both woman and man, according to Nisbert T. Taringa. He speaks of cases where God is described as female, and how some metaphors depict the image of God as having parallel male and feminine images. He writes about how the word Mwari and the word Mhandara (a girl who has reached puberty) are at times used interchangeably in some Shona communities, which equates God with a female being. He also states that another name for Mwari is Mbuya, which means grandmother, and explains this term is often used when people refer to Mwari’s powers of creation and fertility.

Encountering knowledge like this, which referenced an African God with a feminine nature, was revolutionary to me. Most amazingly, it was in my own backyard – I didn’t have to cross borders to find it. It felt like all the boundaries and hierarchies keeping me from truly experiencing God finally came crashing down, one after the other. Here was a God in whose image I was truly made. Female, Zimbabwean, indigenous, non-colonial, and divine in the highest sense. This was a God who did not seek to dominate or possess. This was a God who intimately understood my struggle – the struggle of fighting to be visible in a world that preferred to erase me, the struggle of learning to like myself while battling an eternity of prejudices and stereotypes born from what I looked like and where I came from, the struggle of being an African woman in an Afrophobic and sexist world.

This was a God who thought my dark skin was holy, not a curse, because it reflected her image. This was a God who viewed my womanhood as a thing of grace, to be praised and worshipped, not a symbol of sinfulness. This was a God who understood me fully, loved me wholly and embraced me without condition because she saw herself in me. I had finally met God, and she was the spitting image of my mother, my sister, my grandmother and myself. God the Creator was an African woman, just like me. Thank God for that.

Chaminuka and Nehanda as Messianic Figures of Zimbabwe: Part 2

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In Part 1 I outlined the background for the assertion that Chaminuka and Nehanda are messianic figures by explaining their historical and spiritual identities, and describing their divine nature as emanations of Mwari/God. Now the focus moves to their role as mediators, which is another important aspect of the messiah archetype. The ability to mediate between God and people is one of the main roles associated with the messiah, especially in Christianity. In this regard the mhondoro spirits of Chaminuka and Nehanda fulfilled the mediator role in the highest sense, acting as links between the Supreme God in the heavens and the people below. They were the gateways through which people accessed God and came in contact with Mwari.

According to T. Kazembe the mhondoro took messages from the Divine to the people, and delivered requests from the people back to God. Chaminuka and Nehanda were “intercessors between human beings and God” and they mediated between Mwari and the people, states A. Nhemachena. They are further referred to as “spokespersons of Mwari”, meaning they were the voice and words of God. Through their spirit mediums God communicated and spoke directly with the people and vice-versa. They are also said to have the ability to “intercede with Mwari and are therefore mediators between God and man,” by T.N. Huffman.

The Chaminuka spirit was particularly revered as Mwari’s intermediary, and M.L. Daneel speaks of Chaminuka’s medium as being able to communicate the messages of Mwari to the outer world. The medium of Chaminuka is referred to as the muromo or official mouthpiece of Mwari by D.P. Abraham, who says that the words of Chaminuka were equivalent to those of Mwari. This goes to prove the important role Nehanda and Chaminuka played as messengers of God who conveyed God’s messages, and as intermediaries that connected the higher worlds and earth, Mwari and His people.

Another element associated with the messianic role is that of supernatural and prophetic powers. By virtue of his/her divine nature the messiah-figure is able to perform acts that defy the laws of nature, acts that are considered extraordinary or miraculous in human terms. Both Chaminuka and Nehanda possessed these abilities in abundance due to their divinity and alignment with Mwari. Clapperton C. Mavhunga says of the two, “Mhondoro dzematenga were sources of unlimited power and knowledge, including as seers or prophets.” M.K. Asante states that Nehanda possessed great spiritual and supernatural powers. The first medium of Nehanda, Nyamhita, is said to have disappeared into a hill at the end of her life, never to be seen again. Nehanda was also famous as a great rain-making spirit that could summon mighty rains with her powers. David Lan says she had “simba remvura, the power of rain,” and speaks of her famed reputation as a rain-bringing spirit across the land.

Professor Ketu Katrak speaks of Nehanda as being regarded by the white settlers as “the most powerful wizard in Mashonaland.” During the First Chimurenga uprising of 1896 Nehanda was said to have the power to prophesy and to provide spiritual protection. She made war medicine and gave fighters protective charms, and also provided them with immunity from enemy bullets. The medium of Nehanda during the second war of liberation, an old woman from Dande, was said to possess extraordinary powers. This is according to J. Murenga Mukomawashe, who knew her personally. She was said to have powers to break handcuffs without touching them, to be invisible in front of a camera, to make fire and guns powerless, and to summon winds of great strength. She also had remarkable prophetic and healing powers. In ancient times the Nehanda spirit was said to have parted the waters of a flooded river so people could pass when ancient Zimbabweans were migrating from East Africa to Zimbabwe, just like the biblical Moses.

Chaminuka was also famed for his mystical powers – he was called a “wizard of abnormal gifts” by Alice Werner. In addition to being a prophet and seer, he kept tame pythons, moved around with lions, controlled the movement of wild animals and was a legendary rainmaker who brought rain in times of drought. He predicted the coming of vasina mabvi (the white settlers who wore trousers), the urbanisation of Salisbury (present-day Harare), and the war of liberation. Paul Berliner states that he was a miracle worker who could read people’s minds and could turn himself into a child, a woman or an old man if he wished. If he clapped his hands before a barren tree its branches would immediately bear fruit to eat. He could make himself disappear and reappear at will, according to Sekuru Madamombe. It’s further stated that Chaminuka was a healer who never used medicine, he would heal simply by word or touching. He could also foresee the coming of pestilence and diseases and would instruct communities on how they could prevent being affected, and he could pluck fruit from a tree and re-attach it back again. It was said Lobengula’s warriors failed to attack his shrine in Chitungwiza because they would see it from afar, but when they got close it would change into a pool of water, a hill or thick fog.

Another role closely associated with the messianic theme is that of liberator. The people look to the messiah-figure to free them from bondage and oppression, and he/she is always a symbol of the highest form of liberation and deliverance. There is a belief that the messiah is a bringer of much longed-for freedom, and also brings a glorious future free from hardship and struggle with him/her. In this regard Chaminuka and Nehanda truly fit the messianic role, since their lives and spirits are closely tied with the theme of liberation in Zimbabwe, especially the Nehanda spirit.

Nehanda is said to be a war-spirit, mhepo yehondo, with the power to lead wars and emerge victorious in battle. The Nehanda spirit, through her spirit mediums, was the guiding force behind the liberation wars fought against colonial rule in Zimbabwe. Nehanda was strongly opposed to colonisation and the resulting destruction of culture, and she fought fiercely to defend her land. Charwe, the most famous medium of Nehanda, coordinated and led the First Chimurenga uprising of 1896-97 alongside other spirit mediums like Kaguvi and Mukwati. She was famed as an effective leader and strategist of the resistance until her execution in 1898. Nehanda of Dande, another medium, also guided the Second Chimurenga war and assisted the freedom fighters until her death in Zambia.

Zimbabwe’s eventual freedom from colonial rule and independence was greatly tied to the guidance and supervision of Nehanda’s spirit, and she is revered today as the driving force behind Zimbabwe’s liberation from white settler rule. As Israel Kamudzandu points out, “Her spiritual powers and influence were behind the birth of postcolonial Zimbabwe,” therefore she can be considered the great liberator and mother-spirit of Zimbabwe. The Chaminuka spirit was also the force behind Shona resistance to outside domination in the 19th century through his medium, and his spirit was invoked and called upon as a source of guidance and inspiration during both wars of liberation.

Another quality associated with the messiah archetype is of a personality overflowing with compassion, love and acceptance. Chaminuka personified these attributes perfectly and is renowned for his loving nature towards others. According to David Lan the most important characteristic of the mhondoro is selflessness and a profound concern for the people who live in his realm, and in these aspects Chaminuka excelled. He taught love, peace and reconciliation and advocated for harmony and coexistence among all the people of Zimbabwe, states Dr. Vimbai Chivaura. He had great compassion and was a pacifist who disliked conflict. Elizabeth Mamukwa speaks of his non-violent approach, and he was said to be a counsellor and protector of his people.

Mabasa Chakomoka argues that Chaminuka demonstrated the importance of the teachings of the prophets and saviours of the past, such as ‘love one another’ and ‘be in harmony’. It is said people flocked from near and far to consult him and everyone who came to him was uplifted by his limitless love, profound divinity and universal outlook. Sekuru Madamombe states that he had deep spiritual insight, was eloquent, brilliant in judicial matters, had deep human sympathy and a colourful personality, and anyone who came in contact with him was enriched. He was a shining soul and a prophet in the truest sense. His mission was said to be national and he cared for everyone, regardless of tribe. He promoted brotherhood and national consciousness, and hunhu/ubuntu was the defining philosophy of his message. He had the essence of a saviour who valued and respected everyone and strove to foster peace, understanding and togetherness in the land.

*Ends in Part 3

(Additional Sources: Evans Mushawevato and Dora R. Mbuwayesango)