Tracing the Shona back to Great Lakes: Part Six


IN the last article we identified the Shona as belonging to three primary totem groups, Shava, Soko and Moyo.
We pointed out that the many other totems that exist among the Shona today are most likely secondary derivatives.
As the families grew in number, some assumed new totems/identities to facilitate ‘cheka ukama’ or inter-marriages.
Others changed totems when they conquered new territories or sought to hide their identities for security reasons.
Acquiring a new totem also bestowed authority and a separate identity from the original group.
The Shava, who are descendants of Mushavatu, one of Murenga’s sons, take their totem as the ‘eland’, the largest animal in the antelope family.
The eland is called mhofu or nhuka (Shona) or ntuka (Chewa).
We have discussed how the eland is considered a sacred animal (mhuka inoera) among not only the Shona of Zimbabwe, but other related communities in east, central and southern Africa.
Evidence from oral traditions shows that the mhofu totem is associated with the original family group that later grew to be the present day Shona and their relatives.
It is not by coincidence that ‘museyamwa’ the ‘chidao’ of the ‘mhofu’ clan is used in street language to refer to black Zimbabweans.
People will say ‘zvinhu zvaana museyamwa’ meaning things related to local Africans.
Legend has it that Mambiri, the ancestor of the vaMbire, whose descendants are the present-day Shona and their relatives such as the Kalanga and the Venda, had three wives.
He loved the first (vaHosi) and the third wife (mainini vechipiri) and built each a beautiful village (musha).
These are the famous two (mbiri) villages that earned our great ancestor the name Mambiri.
These villages were built in Guruuswa or Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. The second wife, we understand, lived more like a servant and her residence was never elevated to a full separate village.
When the vaMbire, inspired by the spirits of their ancestors, decided to migrate south to present day Zimbabwe, they all belonged to one family which identified with the ‘eland’, mhofu/nhuka, an animal that had deep religious significance in their lives.
They segregated into three groups: one group retained the original eland totem. These were the descendants of Mushavatu (Mushavanhu), and called themselves Shava.
Today in Zimbabwe they are called ‘vaHera’, with Buhera as their centre of recent diversity.
The second group assumed the Soko totem.
Legend has it that these were the descendants of Mambiri’s first born son who had changed his totem to Soko as a way of appeasing the ancestral spirits for the abomination of impregnating his own half-sister, Mambiri’s daughter from his third and youngest wife.
The whole group then decided that one of them be the arbiter, the one to settle disputes that might arise.
They chose the son born by the less-favoured second wife of Mambiri to become the arbiter or in short, the ruler or chief.
The one chosen to be chief was to look after the interests of all members of the group and rule without fear or favour.
He was expected to have a big open heart for everybody, not to favour any one group or individual.
He assumed the ‘totem’ ‘Moyo’.
The Moyo group were the rulers.
They ruled over the whole nation.
These were the Mwenemutapas and the Mambos that ruled the empire.
They had to have a good heart (Moyo) to accept and look after everybody else. All their descendants have assumed the totem ‘moyo’.
The Moyos had to have an animal as a symbol for the totem group.
The cow, mombe, was chosen to represent the ‘Moyo’ mutupo as it best represents the role to be played by the ruler or chief.
Hence members of the ‘Moyo’ totem are called ‘chirandu’ because cattle are used to settle all disputes (mirandu) just as money is used in modern societies. Cattle provide meat, milk, hides, manure and can be sold to get money which can also be used to settle debts or ‘mirandu/mhosva’.
To emphasise that the chief had to accept everybody, the ‘Moyo’ clan was also called ‘Bvumavaranda’ meaning one who accepts the people he rules over. ‘Dhewa’ and ‘Dlembeu’ are other names attached to the ‘Moyo’ mutupo.
The ‘Mhofu or Shava’ were the main branch of this ancestral group of the Shona.
They assumed responsibility for feeding the nation.
They were the mother or ‘Amai’ of the whole group.
They were the tillers of the land, responsible for agricultural production and food security.
It was them who went to the holy shrines presided over by their brothers the Soko, to pray to ‘Mwari/uMlimo’ for the rains so that good harvests could obtained.



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