HomeAnalysisDumba as prototype: Part Two...linkages, language and african foundational philosophy

Dumba as prototype: Part Two…linkages, language and african foundational philosophy

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

THE Bantu words kuumba (to mould or to create); muumbi (potter or the Creator); and dumba (the hut/house in which a child is born and kept until the umbilical cord falls off) are all related.  

They can also be linked to dumbu and nhumbu, meaning tummy and pregnancy respectively.

M. Hannan, S. J. defined dumba as ‘temporary shelter’, which would equate it to musasa.

Professor Herbert Chimundu gave many definitions of dumba, such as:

  • Dumba mumba maiberekerwa mwana (vana) pachinyakare: The house/hut belonging to the mid-wife where children were delivered in ancient times. Dumba was the maternity ward.
  • Dumba chimba chinenge chakavakirwa kumbofanogara imba ichivakwa: That is, a temporary structure to live in while one constructs a permanent house. This means dumba was the prototype, the foundational structure which was copied in later constructions.
  • Dumba imba inoitwa nevana vachitamba mahumbwe: That is, a playhouse for children to play at being grown-up
  • Kana munhu achikutora kudumba anenge achida kutaura newe muri vaviri, pasina mumwe munhu anokunzwai: If someone takes you aside to a dumba, he or she wants to discuss secrets, confidential matters away from anyone else’s earshot.

This last meaning comes closest to the foundational meaning of dumba as the women’s assembly, the equivalent of dare revarume.

Dumba inzvimbo yekuumba mazano. Asi nhumbu inhengo yemukadzi inenge yave kutoumba mwana: Dumba is an exclusive place where women create, mould ideas. Nhumbu means pregnancy, a womb in which a foetus is already in gestation.

Application of the Theory 

Dariro defines the principal African structure for communication and media.  

The preceding definitions of Bantu words demonstrate that the circle or dariro was\is the source of African communication principles in arts, law, faith and architecture. 

But these principles were also in tune with perceptions of the universe.

The planets and their moons are spherical.

Orbits are spherical and repeat the going and coming of moons around planets, creating a planetary rhythm based on spheres.

The earth itself is spherical and rotates along a spherical orbit around the sun.

Nature is relational and, for the most part, obeys the seasons which repeat the coming and going rhythms of natural things throughout the universe. We are part of nature and resident in a universe of spheres.  

There are no rectangles in nature and no-one has ever eaten a square mushroom or rectangular squash.

It is no accident that all African societies celebrate the dariro (circle) as a practice and as a metaphor for their relational philosophy.

The African circle, dariro, is a moral, judicial and aesthetic structure of such great flexibility that it had to be repeated in almost all African architectural structures, including the Great Zimbabwe and related monuments.

Professor Chimundu in Duramanzwi Guru ReChiShona defined dariro as:

“Denderedzwa rinotamba vanhu mukati.

Dariro kurongana kwevanhu kana zvimwe pachibuda mucherechedzo wedenderedzi unosara pakati.”  

The dariro defines the people’s stake in its middle.

“Kana vanhu vari mudariro vose vanenge vachionana meso avo.” In the dariro, all participants can see one another. 

Over the centuries, due to the negative influence of white colonisation and its linear view of the world, Africans have either ignored the importance of the dariro or have come to view it through the white settler’s eyes as a primitive, narrow and restrictive construction.

But in reality, dariro represents a global construction.  

If I am facing you and looking north, it means you are facing me and looking south.  

We both see each other but you are watching things from my back, the south, which I cannot see; and I am watching things from the north, which is your back, which you cannot see.  

The same rule applies to those who face each other east and west, north-east and north-west, south-east and south-west.  

This is the meaning of kuonesana in the dariro, which means enabling the other to know what he or she cannot see because you can see it.   

You relate to the south on behalf of the whole dariro, while I relate to the north on behalf of the same.

The African circle as an aesthetic structure puts the performer and the audience in one continuum.  

The performer is part-audience and part-performer. The roles can also be inter-changed.  

The link between the two lies in the ‘call-and response’ mechanism – kuparura or kushaura nekutsinhira kana nekugadzirisa zvisinga tsinhirike kuti zvizotsinhirika.  

Therefore, the dariro is a political, educational, moral and aesthetic structure which embodies the relationship between those chosen by the same daririo/dare to lead (kuparura/kushaura), on one hand, and those who have chosen them and who confirm their leadership through response (kutsinhira or kugadzirisa).

Chimhundu again says: “Kana uchiparura chinhu unenge uchitungamira vamwe kuchiita.  

Kutsinhira kutaura mashoko anotsigira zvataurwa nemunhu atanga kutaura.” 

Kutsinhira is to respond to a chosen lead speaker in order to affirm, modify or correct what he or she may have started. All this is done within the structure of dariro, which is both a physical reality and an ideological construct.

And yet, “Kutsinhira (also) kubaya muforo wechipiri (kana wetatu) negejo, uchitevedza wambenge wabaiwa pakutanga.”  

In other words, kutsinhira is also used in ploughing.  

The second, third, and fourth furrows must follow harmoniously and consistently where the first (the lead furrow) broke ground. Finally, both the canal and the furrow mean that there is an agreed farm, a field or garden (munda kana ndima yakatarwa kare) belonging to the whole people. The dariro leaves a space in the centre which symbolises the people’s collective stake.  

All these are clear metaphors and practical structures for encouraging understanding, convergence.

In other words, in the African circle or dare, those who lead have been chosen to lead.  

When they lead the song, the dance, the path or the court case, they must also wait for the response (kutsinhira or kugadzirisa).  

They may be told by the rest of the circle to stop or they may be told to correct their lead tone, their movement, voice or words if it is not possible for the rest of the dariro or dare to affirm what they will have sung or said or done in lead.

The farm or garden where the furrow or water canal is to be started must belong to the people and be known.

The problem with linear thinking is that it reverses the relational arrangement by demoting those who choose the lead singer; by demoting those who affirm the leadership of the selected leader, thereby allowing the lead singer to run away from the dariro and to pretend to be a solo performer or self-made celebrity!  

The danger which such a run-away face is called kupaumba, which is the opposite of kushauraanoramba achipaumba haatsinhirike.

It is obvious that the adversary who goes to a Roman Dutch Law-based court has abandoned the effort of stepping up to his neighbour in search of understanding.  

He or she has left the circle.

  • Joining the dariro is already a silent expression of willingness to sing or dance along; or willingness to learn to sing and dance along; or willingness to speak the language spoken in the dariro; or willingness to learn and understand that language.
  • When there are more people, the circle is widened, but it remains a circle.
  • For African children, the circle meant that there were always several mothers and several fathers per child in the circle. If my mother died, she was instantly replaced by her sisters, cousins, even brothers who became my mothers. These wise words in English, however, cannot convey the full meaning of these relationships.
  • At the level of the community or neighbourhood, the circle teaches that the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s child in that dariro is quite capable of being inflicted on your own child sitting in that same circle; the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s mother sitting in that dariro of mothers will sooner or later hit your mother, aunt or sister occupying the same space in that circle.
  • Therefore, you watch what may come from behind my back, while I watch what may come from behind you.
  • The circle, therefore, taught solidarity as daily common sense and practice.
  • In terms of generations, the dariro meant all generations sitting in the same circle. There was deliberate effort to reduce generational gaps in terms of understanding. When elders die to become ancestors, they are replaced instantly by new elders who close the gaps. This meant continuity of heritage and knowledge. It also meant that there were no sunset laws which declared that a grievance would expire after 25-50 years or even 500 years.  A collective grievance of the family or community could only end by resolution, settlement and reconciliation. In this sense, slavery, colonialism and apartheid are unresolved crimes.
  • Above all, the dariro represented synthesis, co-ordination, the aspiration for convergence and harmonisation.


Insights gathered from the two instalments on African Foundational Theory of Communication can be summed up as follows:

  • Dare did not exclude women. It was invented by women as dumba.
  • The legacy of the dumba was so strong that missionaries co-opted it and turned it up-side-down as the Christian Church Women’s Union. It is now upside down because it falls under a male pastor or bishop, since it is a must that the chairperson be the pastor’s wife or the missionary’s wife who reports to the missionary, pastor or bishop.
  • Western colonialism, Christianity and Islam have had the effect of promoting, escalating male domination of African society and African women. Both whites and Arabs tended to encourage and strengthen those African practices which they perceived as similar to their own as male-dominated societies. That is why the mistaken view now prevails which says dare is a sexist male institution, even though men copied it from the dumba, the very original dariro.
  • There is no Western communication theory or philosophy equivalent to African Relational Theory based on dariro and dumba. This theory is a web connecting God’s creation of the human race; pottery as an art and an act based on the understanding of God as potter and woman as both potter and carrier of the foetus which is moulded in her womb. The pot itself is a circle and a metaphor for the womb and for woman, thereby linking the invention of cuisine and the preparation of food in a pot to God’s creation as well as to sex and reproduction. The Bukusu use a phrase which, in Shona, would come across as ‘kubika mukadzi’, meaning to make a woman conceive!
  • But it is the dominance of dariro in the arts which makes it a primary vehicle for African communication theory. This theory, because it is the opposite of Western linear communication theory, is actually suited for the age of the web and digitisation. This can be the subject of another installment another day.

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