Of n’angas, witches and prophets

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I AM not sure what I was searching for on the internet last week when I ended up in a photo archive of scenes from the diesel n’anga drama.
I had a chuckle.
Great images of the then who is who in national politics, timidly appearing, barefooted, before a smashing beau called Rotina.
The poor gentlemen were later to become the butt of many diesel jokes…how on earth can such power captains believe Rotina’s junk of naturally appearing diesel?
Off course we know the gentlemen had sinned cardinally, not because they had believed Rotina, but simply because they had visited her in broad daylight and courted career defining publicity.
For that indiscretion, the gentlemen are still vilified to this day.
N’angas have a captive audience in political and socio-economic spaces. One must just make sure never to be caught at the shrine!
Alternatively, if one intends to do it openly, then one should seek services of a baptised n’anga.
My little experience with n’angas is biased towards the traditional lot; generally unkempt and menacing.
The intimidating appearance was never enough to chase away lingering doubts in me.
From a young age I always thought they were a bunch of tricksters.
Perhaps therein lay unfulfilled scientific enquiry.
Perhaps my experience would have taken a different trajectory if I had met the new generation of Rotinas.
The first visit I made to a n’anga was as a small boy accompanying my grandmother on a pressing family enquiry in the village.
The gentleman, making a big effort to appear scary, threw his divining pieces and then shook his head before letting out a scary sound.
Looking at my ambuya, he asked in an almost angry voice: “I see things going this way then that way and back again this way, what is happening?”
My ambuya then excitedly took over, explaining the issue of mombe dzeumai that had troubled the family.
When we finally left, ambuya was on cloud nine over the n’anga’s abilities.
My skepticism was sternly dismissed.
Later in the 1970s, and with my siblings, I was part of the crowd at a magician’s show in Dangamvura.
For a cent each, the crowd was treated to spell-binding magical acts.
The magician, popularly known as Abracadabra, since the magician always chanted the word abracadabra during his acts, was a household name in Mutare. Breathtaking stuff it was…cutting off his tongue and putting it back, making a boy lay an egg and converting newspaper pieces into Rhodesian dollar bills, among many of his magic tricks.
When he asked if anyone doubted these acts, I promptly raised my hand.
He then threatened to turn me into a pig.
I dared him to!
He started making preparations that included abracadabra incantations whereupon my sister broke into uncontrollable wailing.
I either chickened out or withdrew from the challenge to spare my sister the agony of a pig sibling!
Whereas magical acts had become commercial entertainment by the 1970s, in ancient times they were integral components of statecraft.
Kings used to stage sorcery competitions from where they would choose the best magicians in the best interests of the kingdom.
A kingdom without royal sorcerers, varoyi, was a poor and weak kingdom.
Not having them was akin to being a modern nation without scientists and inventors.
Over time, in many parts of the world, sorcery gave way to the art of illusion and military science.
Illusion is a great art handed down from generation to generation in parts of India, East and West. It is based on a myriad of ways of tricking the mind through sensory deception.
Sorcery drives many n’angas and modern day prophets.
Miracles, mapipi, minana all derive from ancient sorcery.
Christianity and education have underpinned our new civilisation and as part of being urbane, we have relegated n’anga consultations to nightly visits.
This is the gap that has been exploited by charlatans, prophets, who have been able to Christianise witchcraft and sorcery of ancient times in order to operate as baptised n’angas in our major towns.
The village has not been left behind — it provides fertile hunting ground for prophets’ equivalents, tsikamutandas.
My own experience with tsikamutanda tricksters goes back several decades ago as an adolescent.
I associated with fellow youths who were apprenticing to become tsikamutandas/prophets. I enjoyed the singing, night vigils and abundant opportunities for night mischief.
I knew it was all acted up. We, however, had an unwritten understanding that I would keep my skepticism to myself, be paraded as their Hebrew (ndimi) expert and provide them with semblance of being a learned sect.
In that alliance, we managed to capture a few ‘wayward zvikwambo’.
To our credit, we never charged beyond a road runner.
With demands of my university education, we eventually parted ways.
One went on to become a prominent tsikamutanda in Botswana while the other is now a Bishop of his own founded church in South Africa.
So back to the Rotina photo archive; the gentlemen appearing before her are hardly any different from you and me.
They are like all of us who would secretly visit Sekuru Ndunge or queue for a prophecy in a stadium or part with a prized ox in order to be cleansed of witching demons.
They are the average Zimbabwean.
Abracadabra was a tourism icon of yesteryear.
Today’s prophets could perhaps become major tourism players.

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