Tracing the Shona back to the Great Lakes: Part Three


WE have seen how the great Ancestral Spirit of the Shona people possessed a young girl (kasikana) and travelled south from Guruuswa in Tanganyika to explore the land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers, with a view to bequeathing it to his progeny.
In this and the next article we shall try to unravel more information about the roots of the Shona by exploring the lineages of their ancestors to see how oral history helps to reveal their relationships.
Future discussions will explore how some of the totems of the different Shona groups came to be established.
The central institution of spirit mediums called mhondoro also will be explored to see how it links to the roots of the Shona people.
The people who were led by the powerful ancestral spirit whose medium was ‘Gumbi Nehanda’ must have been a closely related group consisting of people of the same family/clan with one great ancestor.
The generally accepted view is that all the Shona and their close relatives such as the Venda and Kalanga, derive from one common great ancestor, Tovera/Thobela.
He is the earliest known ancestor of the Shona according to oral tradition.
At ‘Mapungubwe’, one of the shrines of the Shona, there is a village called ‘Thobela’.
In the Matombo Hills, a road that branches left on the way to Mzilikazi’s grave is named ‘Tovera Road’.
‘Tovera’ is recognised as the Great Ancestor of the Shona.
His name appears in the lyrics of songs sung at various cultural and spiritual ceremonies where the people call on him to help solve their life challenges such as disease and famine.
Among the Nambiya, ‘Tovera’ also is recognised as a great ancestor of the people.
One such song that recognises Tovera as the great ancestor of the Shona includes the following lyrics:
“Tovera mudzimu dzoka!
Vana vanorwara
Mudzimu dzoka!
Kwaziwai Tovera!”
‘Mambiri’ was the son of Tovera.
He was the head of two (mbiri) famous villages in Guruuswa, Tanganyika, where the Shona people originated.
His people were called ‘Mambiri’s children (vana vaMambiri).
They also came to be called ‘VaMbire’.
The name has persisted until today; with one of the districts in Mashonaland Central province being named ‘Mbire’.
‘Mambiri’ was the father of ‘Murenga Pfumojena Sororenzou’.
This is the legendary ‘Murenga’ after whom the liberation wars of the people of Zimbabwe are named.
He is the great ancestor whose fighting spirit is credited with inspiring the people of Zimbabwe to fight the invading ‘vapambevhu’ and ‘vapambepfumi’ from Britain in all phases of the Chimurenga liberation struggle.
‘Murenga’ was the father of ‘Chaminuka, Gumbi (Nehanda) and ‘Mushavatu’ (Venda spelling) or ‘Mushavanhu’ (Shona).
The earliest known spirit medium of the Great Ancestor of the Shona, most likely, ‘Tovera’ himself, was Murenga’s son Gumbi.
After Gumbi the ancestral spirit possessed the young girl ‘kasikana’ he gave his name as ‘Gumbi Nehanda’.
It was after possessing ‘Kasikana’ that the Great Ancestral Spirit ventured south to look for a suitable land to settle his people.
A previous article gave details of the ‘Gumbi Nehanda’ legend.
The Gumbi Nehanda spirit is the main ancestral spirit (likely Tovera himself) that guided the children of Mambiri into Zimbabwe.
It preferred to possess the female descendants of Mushavatu, younger brother to Chaminuka and Gumbi, all three being sons of Murenga Pfumojena Sororenzou.
The spirit medium ‘Nyakasikana’ carried the Great Nehanda spirit across the Zambezi and into Zimbabwe.
Only once is it reported that the Nehanda spirit possessed ‘Nyamita’, daughter of Mutota of the Nzou totem.
During this period, David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer, reports that he personally saw Nyamita, the spirit medium, strike the waters of a flooded river, which waters then separated allowing people to pass across.
This is similar to the Biblical Moses striking the waters of the Red Sea to allow the children of Israel to escape their Egyptian pursuers.
The story is also told of how Gutsa, Chiweshe and Hwata, sons of Chief Nyashanu, fleeing their enemies from Buhera to seek refuge with their brother Seke, found the Save River in full flood.
A female spirit medium (svikiro) that they had forced to accompany them struck the waters of the flooded Save River.
The waters separated allowing the three and their consultant spirit medium and her dog to escape across.
The three worked closely with the Nehanda spirit medium, Charwe, otherwise well known as Mbuya Nehanda during the first Chimurenga.
Mbuya Nehanda, Hwata and Gutsa were all sentenced to death and hanged for the killing of Pollard, a white settler and Native Commissioner of Mazowe.
One cannot help, but speculate that the spirit medium who accompanied the three descendants of Mushavatu from Chief Nyashanu’s country in Buhera, was indeed our Mbuya Nehanda.
At the time of the arrival of the whitemen, earlier predicted by Chaminuka whose spirit medium dwelt near Chitungwiza, the Nehanda Spirit resumed the regular practice of possessing only female descendants of Mushavatu, of the ‘Mhofu’ totem.
Chaminuka, son of Murenga was also a ‘mhondoro’ spirit that possessed only mediums of the Mushavatu descendants (vaera Mhofu).
Just before the arrival of white invaders, Chaminuka’s spirit medium was ‘Pasipamire Gavaza’ of the Mhofu totem who lived in the Mhondoro area; itself named for the concentration of the spirit mediums or mhodoro’.
Through his medium (svikiro), Chaminuka predicted the coming of the white invaders whom he described as ‘vasina mabvi’ and the First Chimurenga.
Chaminuka was well known for his mysterious exploits (mashiripiti).
Ndebele warriors failed to attack and destroy his shrine at Chitungwiza.
They would see it from afar, but on getting close, the place would be a pool of water, a hill or just thick impenetrable fog or mist.
Chaminuka’s medium was killed at the orders of the Ndebele King Lobengula, who had invited him (Pasipamire) to Bulawayo.
Ndebele spears failed to penetrate his body until Chaminuka advised them to give the spear to a young boy who then stabbed his medium to death.
Another great ancestral spirit was Kaguvi.
His medium (svikiro) was Gumbo reShumba.
Kaguvi worked closely with Nehanda to mobilise the war effort in the First Chimurenga in the 1890s.
Mbuya Charwe and Gumbo reShumba, the spirit mediums of Nehanda and Kaguvi, respectively, and both descendants of Mushavatu, also of the ‘Mhofu’ totem, were arrested, tried and hanged by the white invaders for organising the rebellion some time in 1898.
What we have shown are the lineages of the Shona and their close relatives.
We have demonstrated that they were a close knit group bound by their ancestral spirits who guided them south to Zimbabwe.
We have shown the total involvement of the Shona spirit mediums in defending the security and independence of their people.
We have seen that the Shona ancestral spirits preferred to possess mediums of the Mhofu totem, with the Nehanda spirit only possessing female mediums.
In the next article we shall more closely look at how the Shona ended up with many totems in addition to the eland (Mhofu).



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