JUST like Elijah or Moses was to the Israelites, so was Chaminuka to the people of Dzimbahwe, today known as Zimbabwe.
But the man, Pasipamire, who would become Chaminuka, despite existing and performing great miracles, counselling and protecting his people, is viewed more like a myth and not a historical figure.
That he had power over animals, kept tame pythons and other snakes; that antelopes gamboled fearlessly about his hut and his celebrated bull, Mindudzapasi, would lie down and rise up, march and halt on his command is fact treated as legend.
Indeed he had power to bring rain and to control the movements of game.
It is said, Frederick Courteney Selous, the hunter who would almost a decade after the death of Chaminuka lead the Pioneer Column, whose coming Chaminuka had foretold, had to seek permission to hunt elephants from the prophet.
Selous was told by his followers that they would never succeed in killing an elephant unless they first asked for Chaminuka’s permission.
When this was done, he gave the messenger a reed which was supposed ‘to bring the elephants back on their tracks by first pointing it in the direction they had gone and then drawing it towards him’.
From the onset, it must be pointed out that the country had, for hundreds of years, interacted with white people whom they conducted trade with.
What Chaminuka foretold was the coming of the British, the Pioneer Column, who would defeat the Ndebele.
According to historian Munhamu Pekeshe: “The Chaminuka prophesy, now credited to many other territorial spirits has either been distorted or misunderstood, especially as prophesy for coming of whites.
Vasinamabvi, wearers of long trousers, as a racial concept had had permanent resident status in this country for 1 000 years prior to the chilling prophesy given to Lobengula.
Islamic traders, moors, from Arabia, East Africa and Persia had long carried out friendly trade relations with the Shona over many centuries.
In terms of dressing, these traders very well fitted the description of vasinamabvi.
At the beginning of the 16th Century, the Portuguese landed on the East African coast.
As traders and missionaries, they ventured into the interior and operated from within and without the Mutapa State.
Again these fitted the vasinamabvi description.
…Chaminuka prophesied the coming of Europeans and Lobengula’s eventual defeat by the European army; kuchauya vasina mabvi vachakunda pfumo remadzviti, the spirit is said to have proclaimed.
Less than a decade later, the Pioneer Column arrived after the BSA Company had annexed Mashonaland as a British colony.
This act eventually led to the Anglo-Ndebele war in 1893 during which Lobengula’s force was defeated despite their gallantry at Pupu.
Chaminuka foresaw King Lobengula’s defeat at the hands of whites.
The coming and presence of whites had been mumatare of our spiritual world for many centuries before,” states Pekeshe.
According to Pekeshe: “Chaminuka is a most revered spirit in Shona traditions but hardly mentioned in modern Shona history. In fact, Chaminuka receives more mention as an intelligence concept during the struggle for independence and in post-independent Zimbabwe than as a pre-colonial concept.”
While the world celebrates the likes of Moses, Abraham, Elijah, Hare Krishna and many other teachers and prophets, African religious leaders do not feature prominently in history and this is deliberate.
Chaminuka the miracle worker, healer, arbiter, a man who could communicate with Musikavanhu (God), is an obscure figure simply because African ways, systems and methods of doing things have not just been disparaged but presented as the antithesis of all human decencies.
Africa had prophets but Europeans chose to call them by other derogatory names, choosing to view them as individuals dabbling in the dark arts all in a bid to deny them their status with the saints.
Because the whiteman supposedly ‘saved’ the blackman from the horrors of his homeland and to justify the West’s enslavement, exploitation, abuse and plunder of black people, Africa could not have had religious leaders who guided societies; prophets who were a source of light.
Truth about Africa and its peoples is not absent, it is very present but just taken for granted and goes unacknowledged.
Spirit medium Sekuru Chakanetsa Madamombe says when we forget figures like the great spiritual leader Chaminuka and others, it is because of a badly damaged sense of self.
“An erosion of self-esteem is one of the symptoms of dispossession, it may even take the form of eagerness to demonstrate flair and worldliness usually highlighted by disparaging one’s traditions,” he said.
He said Pasipamire existed just like Moses who grew up in Egypt an ordinary boy.
“Pasipamire waivemwana wekwaRwizi vanaMazarura vaera nzou, akaberekerwa kuMhondoro kwaGavaza,” he said.
“Our history is real, so are our people, our forefathers and mothers. That our history is important and of value is shown by the concerted effort to deny anything worthy of the name of history to Africa and the African peoples; the deliberate deletion of people like Chaminuka in the history of our country,” said Sekuru Madamombe.
“Failure to acknowledge Chaminuka in history books, the reason he is presented more like a mythical figure, is because Africa’s oppressors and Western historians are not ready to concede the fact that Africa has a military, religious, art and business heritage,” he said.
Chaminuka is a figure of recent history and his life and teachings have not yet been obscured by legends and doubtful myths, said African Tradition Religion expert Mabasa Chakomoka.
“The possession of Pasipamire by (the spirit of) Chaminuka proved that the revelation of God takes place at all times and that God-realisation is not the monopoly of any particular age.”
“Chaminuka demonstrated beyond doubt the reality of Musikavanhu and the importance of time-honoured teachings of all the prophets and saviours of the past – love one another and be in harmony with nature.
He had a divine personality; people flocked to him from far and near, men and women, young and old.
Everyone who came to him felt uplifted by his profound divinity, boundless love and universal outlook,” said Chakomoka.
Historian Terence Ranger acknowledges the existence of Chaminuka but in typical white fashion uses words such as ‘myth’ when he describes him.
“Throughout southern, central and eastern Africa, there are myths of martyred prophets. Only very rarely, however, is there any written documentation to help date and situate the prophets so central to oral tradition. The case of Pasipamire, medium of the spirit Chaminuka, is very different. For Pasipamire’s death we have
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concrete written evidence as well as a rich growth of myth,” writes Ranger.
But Chaminuka was a well-known inspiring personality across the country.
“Chaminuka was not a spirit of a clan but a national spirit who dealt with matters of the country,” said Sekuru Madamombe.
“He had deep spiritual insight, was eloquent, brilliant in judicial matters, had broad human sympathy and a colourful personality.”
It is said anyone who came in contact with him was enriched.
“People came from all over the country to consult him on various matters. And in these consultations, his power would be displayed. For example, in the midst of a discussion, he could disappear.
“Where you would have counted six people, you could come back to find only five people with Chaminuka nowhere to be seen and then after some time he would reappear. And when he reappeared he would not have missed any part of the ongoing discussion and would proffer solutions,” he said.
According to Sekuru Madamombe, in every nation’s spiritual life there is a time for a fall as well as a rise.
“During the time of Chaminuka, the nation experienced a rise, the possessed Pasipamire became a shining soul, a powerful messenger.
“Pasipamire’s family and many other families visited Mutiusinazita, found between Svosve and Marondera, to appeal to Musikavanhu for solutions to problems they had. It is during this time that the spirit of Chaminuka descended and possessed Pasipamire.
“Chaminuka haana dzinza, imhepo yenyika yose, ingirozi yakaburuka kubva kunaMusikavanhu kuzoponesa nekubatsira nyika yose,” said Sekuru Madamombe.
Pasipamire, he said, became a prophet in the truest sense of the word and as prophets are understood the world over.
“The prevalent idea is that there can be only one religion, that there can be only one prophet, that there can be only one incarnation; but that idea is not true. If we look at the lives of all the great messengers, vanaNehanda, vanaKaguvi, we find that each was destined to play a part, as it were, and a part only.
“No people or race is born to alone enjoy the world. Each race has a part to play in the divine harmony of nations; each race has its mission to perform, its duty to fulfill. Every prophet has a part to play and controls destinies as far as that part is concerned,” he said.
Possessed by Chaminuka, Pasipamire performed many miracles.
“He was a healer but one who never used medicines. He could heal ailments simply by word or touching. And he could foresee the coming of pestilence and diseases and would instruct communities on what to do to ensure they would not be affected or prevent them from coming,,”said Sekuru Madamombe.
“Chaminuka could pluck a fruit from a tree and re-attach it; he had power over nature. He moved around with lions as pets and had a pet python that he carried around wherever he went,” he said.
It has been argued that while people become believers in a personal God, have principles, these are best understood through the human being chosen by the Creator.
People understood Musikavanhu more through Chaminuka — even King Lobengula paid homage to the prophet, acknowledging his power.
“Pasipamire was regarded as owner of the land. Hunters had to seek permission to ‘kill the elephants nicely’ and donated gifts of ivory and cloth. Shona supplicants came from distant kraals.
“Even Lobengula, King of the Ndebele, sent Pasipamire presents…”
Chaminuka’s mission was national, caring for all the people. He strove to promote peace and brotherhood.
He promoted national consciousness, preaching a strength-giving religion.
Hunhu/ubuntu was the hallmark of his message.
Political leaders up, to the Second Chimurenga, are indebted to Chaminuka who became a source of inspiration and a driving force.
According to political analyst Goden Nyambuya, Chaminuka featured prominently in our liberation wars as a source of inspiration.
“He planted the seeds of African independence for another generation to harvest. The importance of figures like Chaminuka is in the fact that their message helped agitate against the colonial power, helping to create the basis for the political emergence of modern Africa,” said Nyambuya.
According to Sekuru Madamombe: “There was nothing wrong with our traditional religion. It had all the solutions to the challenges we faced, isusu savanhu hatifanirwe kunge tichitambura.
“Tinozvitambudza nekuti tarasa nzira dzedu. Chaminuka waiva muporofita, murapi, wainaisa mvura, aisvitsa zvichemo kuna Musikavanhu zvichinzwika.
“It is wrong to think that we are inferior and our role is to be the servant of whites. Hatitambure, tinozvitambudza,” he said.
In 1883, it is said King Lobengula, fearing the power of the prophet, resolved on Chaminuka’s destruction.
He invited him to Bulawayo on a friendly visit, but Chaminuka was not deceived.
He told Chief Seke, “I go to the Madzviti, the Ndebele, but I shall not return.”
Chaminuka set out for Bulawayo and met King Lobengula’s war-party near the Shangani River.
Most of the warriors kept out of sight; only a few headmen came to meet him.
On being warned that he was about to be killed he refused to run away saying he was too old to run.
“If his day has come Chaminuka does not fear to die; but bid my son, who is young and swift of foot, creep away in the bushes while there is yet time and carry the news to my people.”
His was surrounded.
The prophet is said to have sat on a rock, calmly playing his mbira.
His assailants tried to stab him with their spears, but could not even wound him.
Some of them had rifles and fired at him, but the bullets fell round him like hailstones, without touching him.
At last he told them he could only be killed by an innocent young boy, and such a one, being fetched, dispatched him, unresisting.
JUST like Elijah or Moses was to the Israelites, so was Chaminuka to the people of Dzimbahwe, today known as Zimbabwe.