Pilgrims of Zame — Mbizo Chirasha

Hybrid African-Spiritual-Cultural Narrative

A harsh heave of shrine incense combined with the stink of ancient snuff and herbal concoctions choked our lungs. The smell was new and strange. The evening was pleated with defiant black shadows and mismatched silhouettes of small hills. Everything was stitched together by instructive spiritual incantations and strange guttural bellows. Angels warmed drums on live embers. Mediums roared in synchronized incantations—

Heyi hii hoo
Heyi hii hoo
Heyi hii hoo

They unstoppably shook their heads and trembled their shoulders from one trance into another. Dust swirls aroused from their dances carried our blessings. The mist that shrouded the grey hills carried the anointing of the land. They guzzled the millet brew in their order of seniority. Worshippers had brought large pots of millet beer from our villages. The ceremonial beer was brewed and brought to the shrine gallery by pre-pubescent and post-menopausal women. That was to ensure that the shrine’s sacredness is maintained.

Matonjeni hills were shrouded in silence and draped in long gowns of grey mist at dawn. During evenings, hills were hugged by apostolic like plain white robes of mist again. Zame is known of bone chilling spits of drizzle year in and year out. We arrived before shadows fully quilted the earth. We didn’t bring modern utensils and blankets into the hills. We walked with our barefoot. Men sat on leopard skin mats and women sat on sheepskin.

Drapes of mist grew the hills into a shrine of black shadows. The moon set like a silver arc over the rim of the mystic Malindidzimu “the seat of gods”. It was gorgeous. It winked to us behind a veil of fluffy, white and smoky drizzling clouds. Soft rains caressed our day long sun-drained skins.

Malindidzimu is the zenith of Zame, the place where gods sit to watch the earth underneath them. When night is ripe the silver moon winks to the gods to take rest. Mermaids are said to wash gods’s feet in Mavulamachena, the gorge of white waters situated at the fontanel of Malindidzimu. The waters are ever silver moon white. The mist rises from Mavulamachena “white waters” to dress the sacred mountains with white skirts and grey doeks towards dawn. When the world is trapped in the web of sleep, gods are said to float along with mist draping’s to meet with their earthly ambassadors. The mystery of Matonjeni, shrine of gods.

 The Matonjeni gallery sits somewhere on a mountain range that runs from east to west. The shrine entrances wind up and down among overhung granite boulders into the gallery. We washed our feet upon entering the shrine to do away with dust and bad omen. Every visitor was blessed with portion of ancient snuff before entering the shrine. The scent of snuff was strange. I sneezed and drooled like a wild pig. That was the same with my fellow congregants. The snuff was strong. After the ritual, eunuchs and nuns led us into the shrine. The shrine is an art gallery with a unique spiritual presence. Gallery walls were beautifully decorated with red and black clay earth extracted from the nearby termite mounds, the lush and green combat that dressed the anthills added ambiance to this astounding earthly but spiritual wonderment. A plethora of ornaments that included animal horns, bone-made trinkets, grass-made beads and ancient-spears made up the Matonjeni gallery collection. The exhibition was diligently curated. The gallery walls were stripped with white, red, black clay patterns. After our maiden tour, we then supplicated to God with a thunderous chorus of applause and heart-rending, mountain-cave echoing, ululations. We thanked gods and spirits for guiding us from evil during our long day journey to the holy land.

The Hallowed eunuch of the shrine, Nyamasviswa with his band of Matonjeni disciples welcomed us with that verve of spiritual merriment. The dignifying gesture uplifted our sun burnt, day long trip tired souls. We brought large pots frothing with millet beer. It was abundant, plenty more than what other clansmen had brought. The traditional millet brew smelt like freshly baked bread. Mediums salivated with that greedily gusto, waiting impatiently to feast from the mouth—watering pots frothing the ancient delicacy. It was intelligently brewed by earth scratching, peasantry lifestyle hardened hands, thus combined with the verve of ancestral wisdom passed from one matriarchal epoch to more and more other matriarchal generations. The welcoming merriment was remote-paused by a blood-splashing hymn, divinely echoed from a swarm of beautiful nuns as it passionately coiled into our groping hearts. We got spiritually connected to the land that carried the bones, breath and promise of our fathers. The wild dove-hen crowing like alto voices pleated our static black silhouettes, the tinkering tenor of throbbing drums, discordant snores of sleeping waters and the vibe of human mass together onto the hems of mystic hills—

Dzinomwa kuna runde
Mhondoro dzinomwa a a
Dzinomwa kunaSave
Mhondoro Dzinomwa…a…a a a
Dzinomwa kuna rundee
Mhondoro dzinomwa AAA

The shrine suddenly slid into an abrupt frenzy of traditional dance-songs and a poetic trance of ancestral praise. The scantily dressed nuns danced until their slim frames soaked in sweat. Their rotund figures were clad in different regalia made of goatskin, leopard and lion skins and other beautifying paraphernalia. They received their costumes in accordance with their levels of seniority and nature of duties. These maidservants were all beautiful but well trained to charge their duties with due diligence and requisite zeal. It was like they were born from one big womb, we found it difficult to distinguish them, and they looked alike as black-eyed peas and they carried themselves with that high calibre of moral consciousness and hyperbolised dignity. Their body frames were a real fulfilment of god’s unmatched creativity. Their breasts were taunt and straight like porcupine quills ready to spike, as they quivered like turgid, fresh ripe mangoes ready to fall from their mother tree. Our untamed hearts skipped to suffocate us, the amazing beauty that blinded both brave hunters and seasoned dancers among other revellers. Male congregants had to tame their manhood because the temptations were extreme, beyond human reasoning and above sexual-emotional control. We uncontrollably salivated at the rawness of that unspoilt human dignity. The wonder-angels were all virgins, they had under gone a traditional initiation including sacrificial oaths to be maid servants of the holy land. That, they would never become wives, mothers or indulge into any intercourse of sexual nature until the time of their demise. They carried their chores with profound zeal and well calculated precision. Their service varied according to age, clan of origin, talent, teachings, practice and seniority.

The appearance of Dungwiza, the rainmaking medium interrupted the current mood. His elephantine frame was draped in an unusual all black apparel. The baritone gifted man boasted of his gigantic frame and ever darting eyes that never blinked to anything. A sign of bravery. He waved and yawned thrice, the drumming, the chanting and dancing stopped abruptly. The night was still young. Dungwiza was the leader of main rituals including rainmaking occasions at Matonjeni. The gallery slid into an abrupt silence like at graveyard. Dungwiza made a rushed stride towards the epicenter of the shrine. Maidservants ululated like cooing doves praise and worshipping the last rays of setting sun.

Dungwiza blew three full finger pinches of ancient snuff and then wiped black snort with the back of his aged and weather-toughened hands. The rustling sound of stubborn winds was drowned by the beat of his poetic incantations—

Imwi mhondoro dzenyika
Varidzi vepasi nemuronga wenyu
Ndauya kuzosuma pwere dzenyu
Nyika yapinda munzamusha
Musha waparara nehosha
Musha wovava segavaka
Pasi ronhuwhwa segutukutu
Vana vayaura, pasi raoma roda veta
Vana vofa nenyota vodzungaira
Dzorai moyo, musasunga moyo
Nyika yoda donhodzo vana vagute
Vanayaura, vafamba mitunhu kuzochema kwamuri
Mukai muone misodzi yavo netarisiro.
Vana vasingachemi vanofira mumbereko

The spirited supplications were punctuated by yawns, bellows and sneezing from shrine disciples and other mediums. Plumes of burning incense and whiffs of black snuff conquered the shrine the scent was both suffocating and beautiful. The rainmaking prayer was capped by an electric echo of ululations from the band of Matonjeni nuns. The shrine was lit with spiritual blaze and human rhythm. Dungwiza tossed his Muhacha rod upwards. He ordered drummers to beat the Shangana neShumba drum. Drums were cracked and their throb vibrated the land. The tense rhythm beat, unmatched. Behold the land was holy.

Suddenly, spats of drizzle grew fat, heavens opened their floodgates, and heavy rain soaked the earth. Drums tinkered still. The night was now aging and was clad in a dark grey gown preparing to surrender Matonjeni shrine to the angels of dawn. Dawn proudly winked its twilight for the elephants to rise from slumber and take an early morning bath, Nguva dzamashambanzou. Mediums sneezed from one trance to another. We chanted still, we sang still and danced still. The rhythm of our dance and song traversed to the lands faraway and reached onto the holy ears of gods.

The eastern hills wore an orange monkey hat and ochre—red blood robe, wiping off mist from the rain—thickened eyelids of our hills. We were served with food, goat meat stew alongside stiff millet porridge sadza remapfunde. We washed down the delicacies with calabashes filled with traditional mhunga brew both alcoholic (mhamba) and non-alcoholic (maheu) beverages. We ate until our bellies stretched; we couldn’t afford a fart or a belch. It was difficult. Dungwiza jumped from his sitting position and an unexpected lightening jolt sparked the semi-dark gallery. It was followed by another unusual lightening wink and a thunderclap. The gallery trembled as if the caves were falling apart. The rainmaker ordered us to be silent and to be stationery.

The gods of this land have heard our concerns; our tears have wetted the mats of heaven. The gods are confirming their and concern and their presence, Dungwiza boasted with his big eyes fixed onto the gallery entrance.

A solitary baboon barked from a distance, a ferocious roar of a lioness ensued, it shook the granite boulders of the shrine and then a strong jolt of lightening blazed again like tongs of fire. There was a deathly silence. We could only hear calculated farts, faint whispers, sighs of awe and feeble breaths from a battalion of congregants packed like sardines against gallery walls. The shrine was seized by the discord of fear.

A frail, thin and uncombed young woman limped lackadaisically into the quiet gallery. Dungwiza, Nyamasviswa, shrine desciples and nuns rose in salutation to the unexpected guest amid fish eagle like—cackling ululations, praise incantations and bellows. A song was pod-cracked from amongst the disciples

It was again a familiar song but many of us were still in utter shock—

Tovela, mudzimu dzoka
Ha heyihe mudzimu dzoka
Aee yiye Mudzimu dzoka
Vana Vanogwara mudzimu dzoka
Kwaziwai Tovela

It was a song to welcome the spirits of the land.

The frail woman spirit shook her head unstoppably, belched and sneezed incessantly. Her fumbling’s were stitched together by continuous handclapping and song from the shrine disciples. She hung her dreadlocked head languidly twice or thrice and then fumbled for an apparel to cover her beautiful bosom. She sneezed hetsu hits hetsu uncontrollably. She roared again like a lioness chasing after a prey. It was an ear-shattering roar. A ferocious roar.

She began to speak in a frightening baritone-laced voice. She spoke deep kalanga tongues—

Ndini Tovela
Mutumwa wedenga nepasi
Ndatumwa naMurenga
Muridzi wapasi nedenga
Chazezesa,
Matama enyu asvika munzeve dzedenga
Ndauya nemisodzi yedenga
Muchamwa mvura, mucharima, muchaguta
Murenga vanotenda nezvipo zvamauya nazvo.

The frail woman spirit was Tovela, the supreme messenger of gods. She was ordained to become supreme when she was still a fetus in her mother’s womb. She is the princess of Matonjeni of the patriarch of Murenga. She had brought the message of rain, healing of the land and good life for pilgrims. Tovela Kalanga was the remaining lioness of the land. Her service was dipped in sanctity, honesty, dignity and spirituality. A pot of frothing millet beer was offered to her as a gift, she guzzled the beer and blew a wide smile into the awed but obedient congregation. A sign of merriment. We chuckled with the relief that our supplications were received.

Drinking, dance and song persisted. Delinquent disciples imbibed until they crawled like skunks. The sun-rose with its old-aged forehead creased with paradox of the rainbow and metaphors of rain. Its rays winked to the fait nightly shadows with a calculated rhythm, tearing apart grey and white gowns of mist off our hills. Fingers of dawn caressed the snore-congested gorges and mist-clad mountains of home. Mourning doves with their melodious hymns deleted owls all-night poetry slam. The nightly rainmaking ritual and Matonjeni vibe were quickly scribbled onto the godly wind slates.

Tovela and Dungwiza disappeared alongside the grey and white veil of the clearing mist. Song and dance continued. Rains persisted. This is the Mystery of Zame, the holy land of rain, ancestral spirits and gods.


©2021 Mbizo Chirasha
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