Nehanda: Tracing the roots of the great Shona spirit medium: Part Two


IN the previous article, we saw that a great ancestral spirit of the Shona people somewhere in Tanganyika in a place called Chigon’o Village possessed a young girl, ‘kasikana’, who then left home and wandered southwards.
Legend has it that, guided by the spirit, she travelled south and temporarily lived on the Matemwe Mountains on the northern banks of the Zambezi, close to the Zambia-Mozambique border.
She or rather the spirit that possessed her, gave its name as ‘Gumbi’.
And because the possessed girl was always accompanied by what appeared to be a young dog (handa), she came to be called ‘Gumbi Nehanda’.
Gumbi Nehanda lived alone with her ‘handa’.
It is said that she dug into the side of the mountain to create a cave where she lived.
The earth was soft at that time.
The markings from her skirt and top made of beads are still etched on what is now hard rock in the area where she used to sit or lie down or roll about.
Her footprints are said to be clearly visible together with markings made by the bracelets (ndarira) that adorned her ankles.
A fascinating mystery that science through carbon dating could probably throw light on.
Legend has it that the young spirit medium, ‘Gumbi Nehanda’ was of the ‘Mhofu’ totem.
And here we can draw some parallels with the Mbuya Nehanda spirit of Zimbabwe which is said to only possess females of the ‘Mhofu’ totem.
Shona-speaking people of the ‘Mhofu’ totem are called the ‘VaHera’, who seem to have first settled in an area now called ‘VuHera’ or present day ‘Buhera’ district in Manicaland Province.
The significance of the name ‘VaHera’ — vanoera, is its meaning.
In Shona ‘kuera’ literally means ‘sacred’.
Given that our ancestral spirits are the key link between the people and Mwari (God), it is common knowledge that members of the ‘Hera’ clan play a significant role in Shona religious practices.
Their role is more akin to that of priests in other religions, but without the elaborate trappings associated with many religious leaders.
It is often the case that a person from the vaHera clan is asked to lead in making supplications ‘kupira’ to Mwari, the creator through the ancestral spirits.
One such ceremony is where the ‘zumba’ of a mhondoro is officially opened.
A ‘Mhofu’ clan member must lead in installing the various artifacts of the ‘Mhondoro’ in the new house or ‘zumba’.
Could that explain why the great ancestral spirit of the Shona people possesses females of the Mhofu totem as its mediums?
We are simply tracing the roots of the Shona through their religious practices.
Looked at another way, the Great Spirit is in fact that of a Great Ancestor who was of the Mhofu totem.
The Gumbi Nehanda legend does refer to the fact that the young girl ‘kasikana’ was indeed possessed by her ancestor, who can reasonably be assumed to be one of the great ancestors of the present-day Shona people.
The great Nehanda Ancestral Spirit possessing the young ‘kasikana’ is said to have travelled south to scout for a rich fertile country for her children.
Indeed the possessed girl travelled alone accompanied only by her ‘dog’, the handa.
Legend has it the ‘Gumbi Nehanda’ slipped into and crossed the mighty Zambezi from her temporary shelter in the Matemwe Mountains on the banks of the Zambezi.
One might assume that at that point in time the rest of the people were still up north in Guruuswa, Tanganyika.
The ancestral spirit must have explored and found suitable the area between the Zambezi and Limpopo that is present day Zimbabwe.
Did the spirit medium ‘Gumbi Nehanda’ travel back to Guruuswa to mobilise the people to move south to Zimbabwe?
We really do not know her movements, but communication must have occurred as the Shona-speaking people did migrate south settling in present-day Zimbabwe.
The claim made by Zimbabweans that this land belongs to our ancestral spirits is not idle talk; the events outlined above bear testimony to that claim.
The dominance of ‘masvikiro’ and ‘mhondoro’ spirit mediums among the Shona people clearly reflects the historical reality of how the Shona ended up in Zimbabwe, led by their ancestral spirits.
The great ancestral Nehanda spirit continues to dominate the socio-cultural existence of the majority of Zimbabwean people.
The Shona religion thrives in the daily lives of the people.
The active involvement of the Chaminuka, Murenga, Nehanda and other ancestral spirits at the heart of all the liberation wars gives credence to the claim that this land belongs to our ancestors who continue to exert great influence in defending our independence.
Our God, Mwari, is approached through the spirit mediums and ancestral spirits.
Indeed the great ancestor, who possessed Kasikana Gumbi Nehanda must have explored the land we call Zimbabwe today, and bequeathed it to his progeny, the Shona people.
Through spirit mediums great and small, our ancestors under the overall guidance of Mwari Musikavanhu, have continued to exercise oversight over our affairs including national security, food insecurity, droughts and other calamities.
How else, many will ask, do we explain the surprising unity and national convergence of purpose such as that witnessed at the July 31, 2013 elections? When many thought the country would be torn apart, the people closed ranks to the great bewilderment of our external enemies and their local lackeys!
No violence was experienced, no blood-letting at the elections; the workings of our Mwari, Musikavanhu!
And the great spirit said:
“Let there be peace among my people!”
And behold, indeed peace prevailed in Zimbabwe!
Another critical phase of the Chimurenga wars was successfully steered by the invisible hands of our Mwari Musikavanhu through our ancestral spirits!
Our great leaders have been truly possessed!
How else do you explain our President Robert Mugabe’s courage and determination in waging, often single-handedly, a relentless fight against western imperialism and neo-colonialism.
And one cannot doubt that he is possessed by the great spirit that possessed Nehanda!
It is the spirit of the Zimbabwean people which endows him with selfless courage; the spirit of no surrender!
“Imi munoti zvomuZimbabwe zviri zvega?
“Ndezvavadzimu naMwari izvi!
Is that not the same Murenga spirit that moved all the people, both Shona and Ndebele to unite against British invaders from 1893 to 1898 in the First?
What or who drove thousands and thousands of youths to abandon school and even lucrative jobs to join the liberation struggle in the Second Chimurenga?
These are the Shona people, inextricably linked spiritually to their God, Mwari and their great ancestral spirits!
In the next article we shall more closely examine the ancestral roots of the Shona to see if we can identify the names of ancestors and their lineages.


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