Hunhu: Africa’s traditional Constitution


HUNHU is a philosophy that can be defined as a set of beliefs set up after generations of studying the true nature of human reality and existence.

This philosophy encapsulates tsika (good manners), which, if lacking, one cannot be said to have hunhu.

It is based on social and environmental regulations and also reciprocity, which entails doing unto others as you would wish them do unto you.

Thus, laws, such as ‘thou shall not kill, steal, bear false witness and commit adultery, among others, were already known to the custodians of hunhu before the coming of Christianity to the region.

Laws, such as ‘do not cut living trees for firewood, but only dead and dry ones’, were also based on reciprocity towards the environment. 

In following the law of the people and the land (mitemo yechivanhu), the people subconsciously conserve the plant life of the forest and allow for trees to reproduce and grow.

Hunhu is also a doctrine as its followers are indoctrinated to take a rest day (chisi) during the week and to cease all traditional rites after Spring, which is set for such ceremony.

This is similar to the Sabbath rest of the Bible which allows for humans to rest from their customary work, giving them time to meditate and attend to family or spiritual issues.

To produce humans who follow the laws of the people (mitemo yechivanhu), which would make then qualify as people with hunhu, the parents have to start socialising the child from an early age.

This is done through educational folk tales (ngano) which focus on promoting righteousness. 

Besides stories, hunhu is embodied in almost every Shona teaching which we call zvirevo

Proverbs (tsumo) are often taught early but understood better as one gets more life experience. This is why often before a proverb is said, there comes the phrase: ‘Ndosaka vakuru vakati’ meaning ‘that’s why the elders said’. 

The point of learning about Ndambakuudzwa (Mr/Ms Stubborn), for instance, is to advice the listener to take heed of people’s advice and warnings, lest one incurs the same fate as the character in question. 

One should heed the moral of the story and take necessary measures to avoid the character’s bad fate instead of encountering it personally and thus learning the hard way.

Parents go to the extent of lying and exaggerating in order to avoid the participation of their young in distasteful things that they may not yet understand.

For example, there are sayings like: “If you lick your thumb, it will slowly dissolve away.” 

“If you walk over someone’s head, he will cease to grow.” 

“If you sit on the road, you will suffer a painful boil (mota) on your buttocks.” 

“If you put watermelon seeds in your mouth, they won’t germinate when planted.”

Saliva outside of one’s mouth is considered disgusting and thus, thumb-sucking and spitting watermelon seeds are discouraged. Walking over a person is disrespectful and sitting on the road is dangerous. 

The above examples are called zvierwa (what’s sacred) and shurukidziro (what’s strived for).

One often has to read between the lines and dig beneath the surface to grasp the concept and see the bigger picture. 

As a result, even before one learns why he/she should not do certain things, he/she already considers them taboo.

Similar to proverbs are idioms (madimikira). Madimikira are phrases with hidden meanings, often with the objective of reproofing but yet being non-offensive.

It is a diplomatic statement which can apply to various situations, which do not necessarily pertain to the contents in the phrase.

If a driver tries to drive in the opposite lane, a passenger can say: “Musapute fodya nekune moto.”

This phrase literally means to not smoke a cigarette from the burning end. 

The driver will know that the passenger is simply saying that there is great danger in not doing things in the proper manner, in this case driving in the wrong lane.

An honest woman may be discouraged from keeping the company of a dishonest one by being told: “Musadziye moto wembavha.” 

This means to not warm yourself at the fireside in the company of a thief, because the innocent woman/man may be wrongfully accused after being associated with the distasteful works of her/his companion.

Literally, it means, guilty by association.

Besides Zimbabwe, hunhu is widespread in many nations with Bantu/Negro populations. 

It is a philosophy that is older than the Bantu migration to different parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The ancestors of the Bantu were the ancient Saharans who used to inhabit the Sahara in places like Nubia and Egypt.

This is seen in the planting of crops like millet, livestock rearing and the tall stature and black skin phenotype that the Bantu introduced to places like Southern Africa where there were mostly hunter-gatherer Bushmen prior to their arrival.

The DNA of Egyptian mummies, like Ramses III, also matches that of the contemporary sub-Saharan Africans.

In ancient Egypt, knowledge of self and the environment was taught, often orally, in mystic schools. 

The more teachings (zvirevo) one knew, the more one understood about the nature of human existence. 

One who knew and understood would grow intellectually until he/she would reach a point of enlightenment. 

He would then become more than just a person, but a god-like figure who conforms to the laws of God and nature.

This is similar to how hunhu is learnt and also in terms of the purpose hunhu seeks to achieve. A person with hunhu is considered godly and thus worthy to be called a human being (munhu). 

A person without hunhu is considered less than a human being and ‘haana hunhu’, is one of the worst insults a Bantu can endure.

Hunhu, as a traditional philosophy, can be found in distant places like China, were they learnt it from Africans called Mons (munhu) who sailed to south-east Asia from south-east Africa long before the contemporary Chinese entered that land.

They used the monsoon winds to sail to and from Asia and the name monsoon was derived from the word munhu.

Later, a black dynasty from Ethiopia and Arabia was set up in China’s Kunlun Mountains around 1000 BCE. They were a royal and spiritual people from the west called Zhou.

They were ruled by a woman called Xiwangmu, meaning western queen mother or mother of the western king, through her association with the west, which, to China, was Africa before America was known to them. 

The time she existed, her association with herbs and godliness led many to conclude that she was Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, whose son and others were Jewish, and thus explaining their name of Zhou.

The Dao doctrine means the way is hunhu, so are doctrines like ren which literally mean hunhu.


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