Rainmaking hot springs of the Ba Tonga

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THERE are concerns among the Ba Tonga about the waning of their tribal traditions due to heavy penetration from other cultures such as the Ndebele, Shona and other tribal communities due to inter-marriages, among other factors.
One of the major concerns we deal with this week is how their sacred shrines such as rainmaking and others were heavily desecrated by both the white man and other traditional and religious groups, who are making unsanctioned trips to the Chibwatata Hot Springs some five kilometres from Binga Centre.
According to the locals, many people are now coming to the springs to perform strange rituals after being referred either by n’anga or self proclaimed prophets who allege the water has supernatural as well as healing powers.
Most of the rituals are done under the cover of darkness, and locals believe that washing in the waters of the hot springs, which have been held sacred by the Ba Tonga people since time immemorial, can bring good luck or rid misfortune.
Those anguished by goblins are also advised to go and take a dip in the springs’ waters.
The Ba Tonga tribesmen use the hot-spring water for healing different ailments that range from bad luck, infidelity, skin problems and other troublesome diseases found in the valley.
Desecration of the springs is not new. The first outsiders to desecrate the shrine were whites who valued water from the springs for its reputed medicinal properties.
Water from the springs is rich in sulphur whose acrid smell greets one as they approach the site and other dissolved minerals.
Sulphur is a major chemical component in most skin medicines and whites used to come and bath in the springs’ water to cure skin diseases, the water is believed to also cure arthritis.
To the Ba Tonga entering the springs is an act of great disrespect. According to Chief Sikalenge, under whose jurisdiction the springs fall, said they were a rainmaking shrine for the Ba Tonga people.
Before the construction of the Kariba Dam which saw the forced removal of the Ba Tonga people to Manjolo about 40km away, no ordinary person was allowed at the springs. Only the rainmaker was allowed to communicate with the gods about the rains was allowed in.
For one to be proved a genuine rainmaker they had to stand in boiling water without being scalded, if one was scalded by the water they were deemed to be an imposter. Although whites built a communal pool it was against the norms and traditions of the Ba Tonga.
There are more than six hot spring sites in Binga, the most popular ones are the Chibwatata Hot Springs a few kilometres east of Binga Business Centre and the Kabila Hot Springs in the Lubimbi area, other sites are only known to the Ba Tonga tribesmen and chiefs because of their significance to the Ba Tonga culture as these are also associated with rain making ceremonies.
The other hot springs have been declared no go areas by members of the public for fear of desecration as most people were thronging the springs for ritual cleansing and faith healing purposes. Only the Ba Tonga are allowed access to the springs.
The Kabila Hot Springs have been rehabilitated into a community bath, while the Chibwatata Hot Springs at Binga Centre are in the process of being fenced off and preserved as a national monument.
A hot-spring is a spring that is produced by the emergence of geometrically heated ground water from the earth’s crust; the water contains sulphates, calcium, chloride, bicarbonates, sodium and magnesium.
Water from the springs has got a faint sulphur smell when hot, but it disappears when it cools off then becomes fit for drinking. When water emerges from the vents, it is loaded with dissolved sulphur and such metals as iron copper manganese, and calcium.
When the water contacts with the frigid air, certain chemical reactions transform the dissolved metal into fine dust like particles that give the plumes their various colours.
Several plants, grasses, crabs, worms and insects are also used for healing purposes.
The water from the hot-springs is taken into containers and mixed with herbs and insects derived from the same spring and used for bathing to wad off evil spirits and bad luck.
Bathing in the hot spring water itself is also believed to wad off evil spirits and brings good luck.
Those who bath in the water are not supposed to use any form of soap or detergent even perfumes or any type of body creams as this will render the treatment ineffective.
Most Ba Tonga families also keep a gourd full of hot spring water in their huts, the water is used for drinking or for boiling special herbs, and teething children are also given the water to drink on a regular basis because the calcium and bicarbonates in the water help in the fortification of their bones and teeth.
The water is also drunk after one has had a heavy meal, as the bicarbonate in the water helps in easing stomach pains and digestive disorders which are often suffered as a result of overindulgence.
Hot spring water is also sprinkled around the homestead during the night to scare away evil sprits, goblins and other evils associated with darkness. The Ba Tonga who have converted to Christianity also use hot spring water as a form of ‘holy water’ which they use to cast out demons much in the same way the tribal Ba Tonga use the water to treat mental illnesses and other ailments.
The Ba Tonga say only a few species can live in extremely hot water at the vent opening.
Most of them dwell at least a few centimetres away from the vents and are similar to sulphur eating bacteria found in marshes, mudflats.
The dried and preserved worms, grasses and insects, because of their resilience to heat and chemicals emitted from the hot spring vents also make very powerful medicine, that is used to protect the Ba Tonga tribesmen from marauding crocodiles,hippos and other deadly water creatures when they set up their fishing nets or simply canoeing along the river.
The mixed concoction is also used on barren women, it is believed that the muti mixed with hot spring water and tiger fish bones can unlock a blocked-up womb of a woman, with the same effect that the water jets out of the vents from the earth’s crust.
Geologists say that most vents stop flowing when their ‘plumbing’ gets clogged by mineral deposits just as a household water pipe gets clogged, it is sad that this natural wonder that provides medicine and ‘safe’ livelihoods is under threat.

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