The Shona worship God directly, not through ancestors


ANCESTORS are part of the human family in Shona culture. They are not God or gods according to the Shona. They are not saints or deities according to Shona worldview and culture. They fear God and worship God directly together with the living. If the matter concerns a drought, they join the living and pray together to God directly to ask for abundant rains and a bountiful harvest. Wherever and whenever the Shona gather together for a communal occasion, they address and greet each other according to their ranks and statuses in society as determined by their lineages. Those who belong to the lineage of the founders of the Shona family are addressed as elders or ancestors of the Shona family or people, regardless of their age or gender, and regardless of whether they are present or absent or dead or alive. They all must be addressed and acknowledged as if they are alive or present. The highest of the ancestors according to the Shona people is Mwari whose blessings are invoked whenever functions of a communal or family nature are performed. The address on the issues at hand at every Shona communal or family gathering starts from below all the way to Mwari at the top. Because the Shona are always very careful not to omit any name on the ladder to the top, when they reach the top where they cannot remember any names, they always ask the ancestor they remember at the top to inform those above him or her of the matter at hand. Important personalities who fail to attend are also mentioned at the occasion, and informed later in person. The fact that the Shona ask their top most ancestor who they remember to pass on the message to those they do not remember all the way to Mwari does not mean they worship God through their ancestors. To request somebody to pass on a message is not to worship them. So, to reiterate for the sake of clarity, the Shona do not worship their ancestors or God through their ancestors, but they, together with their ancestors, worship God directly during communal occasions such as rain-making ceremonies or commemoration of departed ones. Those who have been at such occasions know that even the dead come to dance together with the living, not as gods or saints, but as human beings through human mediums. No one in Shona historical memory has ever claimed to have danced with God or Mwari even in their dreams. Again to repeat for the sake of clarity and emphasis, ancestors are human beings, not gods, or saints, or deities in Shona worldview and culture. And no Shona people ever worshipped human beings in human historical memory. The error of referring to the ancestors as gods, or saints, or deities is alien and very strange to the Shona. Those European terms have no equivalent in the Shona language or culture. The correct word for ‘ancestor’ in Shona is ‘tateguru’. To be a tateguru or ancestor in Shona has nothing to do with being dead or alive, or being a saint or daemon. It also has nothing to do with being old or young, or being a man or a woman. A male or female child, who is born today and belongs to the lineage of the founders of the Shona people, is a tateguru or ancestor, not a child. Its age does not take away its status as tateguru or ancestor of the Shona people. Also, a tateguru or ancestor, in Shona, does not change his or her personality or reputation, whether he or she is dead or alive. If he or she is a thief or murderer, he or she remains as a thief or a murderer, in life and in death. If he or she is a benevolent person, he or she remains a benevolent person, whether he or she is dead or alive. If he or she is a terror to his or her community, he or she remains a terror to his or her community, whether he is dead or alive and no right-thinking person would like to associate with thieves and murderers just because they are one’s ancestors, alive or dead. Those who know Shona culture well know that such ancestors are driven away at important communal occasions such as Mabira and Kurova makuva. Some deliberately skip mentioning their names and pretend they have forgotten or do not know them. Also linked to the above point is that a tateguru or ancestor in Shona culture does not change his or her social status in life, whether he or she is dead or alive. If he or she is a son or a daughter, he or she remains a son or a daughter in death as he or she was in life. If he or she is a father or a mother, he or she remains a father or a mother in death as he or she was in life. If he or she is a good-for-nothing fellow, he or she will remain a good-for-nothing lazy fellow in death as he or she was in life. Death does not turn one who is a muzukuru into an ancestor of his or her sekuru. It does not change one who is a criminal into a saint to be worshipped by the living. No man or woman, dead or alive, has ever been worshipped in Shona historical memory. Human beings remain human beings. And human beings are imperfect. Only God is perfect and is worshipped in Shona culture. The confusion that the Shona practice ancestor worship or that they worship God through ancestors is created by Christians who try to align Christian worship with Shona worship, which are two diametrically and antagonistic opposites.


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