Understanding African spirituality


By Charles T.M.J. Dube

AS we begin the new year, I thought it prudent to touch on issues to do with our spirituality for the month of January.
I will this week try to open a window on African spirituality and then move on to Christianity and other religions for the rest of the month.
I had expected to meet some giant or traditional garb-wearing Sekuru Nhire Mutimbanepasi at the National Gallery, only to meet a trendy jean-donning young man of 40 with dreadlocks.
After a few pleasantries, we decide to move our discussion.
Sekuru Mutimbanepasi has a deep distaste for religion by whatever appearances and so prefers talking about African spirituality (AS) as opposed to African Traditional Religion (ATR), which is not to say that there is no ATR.
Likewise, he is more comfortable with Christian spirituality than Christian religion though acceding that there is also a Christian religion.
A typical example is in order here:
Zai romukapu rinonaka (An egg fried in a cup is delicious) says a wife to her husband.
The inquisitive husband finds out that the wife got the recipe from her mother and upon further follow-ups discovers the mother had gotten the cup-egg cooking recipe from her mother too, who upon further investigation confirms the reason she started using a cup was because she had no pan which in itself began a cup-egg frying tradition.
So he equates this scenario to religion which is often guided by tradition which is determined by prevailing circumstances at some critical moments in the history of the religion.
This he contends is true of both Christianity and ATR.
He contends that the masungiro ritual, for instance, is mystified and turned religious when it is simply a recognition that there could be childbirth genetic-related complications associated with a new wife’s line which only her family, with the family history, could best handle.
The two goats slaughtered during the ritual are nothing but an economic consideration for looking after the husband’s wife and child pre and post-natal and hence the masungiro demand that the first child be born at the wife’s home.
I try to find out how he ended up immersed in AS and he is quick to tell me that 80 percent of people who claim kuva nemidzimu havana (to be spirit possessed actually are not).
Vazhinji vanoita matare nembereka (Most people consult familiar spirits thinking they are consulting their ancestral spirits).
I am interested in this mbereka angle as I am hearing about it for the first time and so he outlines: “Mbereka zvikwambo/ngozi zvinonyebera kuva midzimu zvichisevenzesa zvishoma zvazvinoziva pamusoro pemhuri” (There are spirits that use basic scanned information about a family and pretend to be family spirits).
A wronged avenging spirit could pretend to be an ancestral spirit (mudzimu) to get attention and turnaround later on.
Sekuru Mutimbanepasi claims in AS, a spirit does not join the creator until it has been cleansed.
After death, there must be some gata (consultations with the spirit world, which he equates to an African post mortem.)
The gata is not restricted to the cause of death, but must also examine the spiritual, so that if the deceased wronged some people, the relatives pay compensations as part of the cleansing process.
Mhaka idzi (these debts/crimes/wrongs), if unattended ndodzinozokonzera (cause) mbereka.
According to AS, the deceased’s spirit does not enter heaven (nyikadzimu) to be judged for its infirmities while on earth, but only does so after purification/cleansing.
The spirit must be cleansed with the assistance of surviving relatives first before his/her ancestors receive him/her and take him/her to his/her creator.
Before the cleansing, it will be a wondering spirit and it is such spirits that n’angas capture and turn into zvikwambo after seducing such spirits under the pretext that their relatives are not willing to take care of them coupled with promises to take care of the spirits’ welfare.
Midzimu/ancestral spirits loathe mishonga/magic and the proliferation of n’angas reflects a breakdown in the family structures.
Sekuru Mutimbanepasi contends n’angas are opportunists who, as business people, will make capital out of any loopholes they notice and will sell medicine and poison from the same chalice.
However, due to their knowledge of AS, they still have some role to play due to the paucity of knowledge on spiritual matters and here, they are only accepted as sahwiras (friends) who can guide the process, and not key players.
Chivanhu or AS is family-based and each individual has his/her own assigned spirit (mudzimu) depending on the purpose for which they are created, with each family expected to have their own svikiro (spirit medium).
Harmony, more than democracy, is the founding pillar of AS and its practice will aim to bring about better understanding at family, community and national levels.
While n’angas will for instance heal, they will also curse unlike svikiros/mhondoros who will attempt to solve problems without bringing about schisms.
Outside the family worship structure, you then have mhondoro or communal spirit with each responsible for a defined geographic coverage or even specialties.
Vanyai vemvura (rain-asking) are normally of the Shoko totem while mapako anoera (responsible for sacred caves) are normally of the Mhofu totem with tsiwo yevhu/vanogadza ushe (relating to the soil and anointing kings and chiefs) would come from the Moyo or Rozvi clan.
Sekuru Mutimbanepasi contends in AS there is no compromise, unlike when dealing with n’angas.
He contends our ancestors are the only living proof of our relationship with the creator and hence we worship the creator through our bloodline.
Thus, in our ritual beer brews, we reserve containers designated for our paternal line (mateteguru), machembere (maternal lines), the local rulers (mambo wenzvimbo) and other stakeholders.
Sekuru Mutimbanepasi claims to read the works of Christ for his own spiritual growth and insists Jesus was spiritual and not religious at all.
He understood the principles behind worship and refused to be governed by traditions.
As the rapport between us grew during the conversation, he tells a bit more about himself and how he can connect to past events up to 4 000 years ago.
He has been to Chad where he met Karanga-speaking people who still speak the old Karanga with an ‘L’ in place of the ‘R’.
He argues spirituality is corrupted by tradition, dogma, indoctrination and the pursuit to monopolise God.
This is as true of ATR as it is of Christianity and other religions.
Sekuru Mutimbanepasi is also a member of the Zimbabwe Medical Traditional Practitioners Board and looks forward to a time when traditional practitioners will be allocated beds for their patients in hospitals.
And here is the Catch22 according to him: “Mweya wakachena ndewaMwari, usati wachenurwa ndowetsvina. Vazhinji vanodzosa mweya isati yachenurwa nekuita mapira asina kuchenurwa.”
A spirit must be cleansed first before being incorporated in the AS worship system.
Then he throws in something controversial!
“AS is based on fertility,” and he shows me some pictures of the aerial view of the Great Zimbabwe monument which depicts a womb and a foetus.
Thus, he concludes, AS is based on life.
He seems to contradict himself when he claims his mother’s womb is his heaven while at the same time talking of nyikadzimu/heaven, where cleansed spirits reside.
In earlier instalments, on AS or ATR, I was able to demonstrate how the rituals around the religion were designed to promote family and community harmony with the demand that outstanding conflicts be resolved by stakeholders for the rituals to bring peace and prosperity to the practitioners.
So, I could equally conclude, it is all about love.


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