Turning back to the narrative genre of nhoroondo, this essay illustrates how historical narratives function as claims to power, recounting relations of power in the past as a way of reshaping them in the present. Accordingly, Sekuru Chigamba’s narrative departs in small, yet significant ways from previously published accounts. I proceed to observe that nhoroondo are seldom neatly bounded narratives. Rather, accounts about one figure, practice, or event frequently interpolate other, related narratives. As a result, the narrative genre of nhoroondo opens onto a world in which the meaning of any given account emerges only in dialogue with other accounts.
Sekuru Chigamba identifies his father Chigamba Tavasika, who served as a mutapi for the senior ancestral spirit of Dumbu, as the primary source for this origin story. As he told me:
The story, I heard it from my father. He was a mutapi, who translated for the mhondoro – an interpreter. So he had all the histories… Like the one I told you, “Dzivarasekwa,” not very many people can say that history. They haven’t yet reached that level. But I heard it from my father. He is the one who told it to me.
Transmitted in the context of bira ceremonies held for Dumbu’s spirit, this origin story is thus decidedly Korekore in nature. More precisely, it is an account specific to the Soko Wafawanaka lineage, whose members trace their ancestry back to a founding figure known as Chingoo.
At the same time, Sekuru Chigamba heard some portions of this story after moving to Harare. As he elaborated:
And there’s one Nyamhunga, who works at the ZBC [Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation]. He has everything, all the history from there. And the history that he told me, it’s together with the history my father told me.
Although Sekuru Chigamba’s interactions with veteran broadcaster Patrick Nyamhunga unfolded in Harare, the Nyamhunga are also Korekore, with Chief Nyamhunga ruling an area located west of Guruve. It is thus not surprising that the origin story Sekuru Chigamba heard from Nyamhunga would have hewn closely to the version he learned from his father.
Mutota’s migration to the Zimbabwe’s northeastern region of Dande is a particularly notable part of Sekuru Chigamba’s origin story. As anthropologist David Lan has suggested, Mutota’s migration constitutes
…the most important myth belonging to the Korekore of Dande. Any Korekore asked about the history of his ancestors will probably begin by telling a version of this narrative. (1985: 75)
As the founding ruler of the great Mutapa dynasty, the story of Mutota’s migration is extensively referenced by historians (Abraham 1961, Beach 1976) anthropologists (Garbett 1966, 1969, 1992; Lan 1985), social scientists working in resource management (Chikozho and Latham 2005; Latham 2005), and scholars working on problems of oral history, archives, and chieftainship claims (Bourdillon 1972; Mazarire 2002; Marowa 2015).
Despite these common invocations of Mutota’s migration, no detailed, individual account of this mythical story is readily available. While David Lan describes collecting “many versions of this myth,” for example, his analysis is based largely upon a single, composite version of the story (1985: 75). In order to consult a specific account of this Shona origin story, readers would need to access archival collections, such as the oral history holdings of the National Archives of Zimbabwe.
Nhoroondo as claim to power
Lan’s composite version of Mutota’s migration story is similar to Sekuru Chigamba’s account in many respects. Each narrative describes Mutota and Chingoo as traveling companions, and each suggests that the two named each other while collecting wild honey during their journey. Yet the two accounts depart significantly in how they present the relationship between Mutota and Chingoo, reminding us that nhoroondo narratives do not simply convey information about the past; they also make claims to power in the present.
As David Lan observes, Chingoo’s relationship to Mutota is not entirely consistent across different versions of the story, for “In some versions Chingoo is described as Mutota’s brother or his twin, in others as his friend” (1985: 75). At the same time, Lan is adamant that Chingoo and Mutota are not related by marriage. As Lan argues:
In no version of the myth is any reference made to a wife of Mutota or to any other affine. The people at Guruuswa and those who make the journey to Dande are all members of Mutota’s own lineage – his sons, his daughter and his brother, twin or friend Chingoo. Not only is affinity absent but the notion of twinship or brotherhood re-emphasizes that all the characters in this tale are members of the same lineage. In narrative terms, it provides companionship without introducing affinity. (Ibid.)
Yet Sekuru Chigamba is equally adamant in asserting that Chingoo and Mutota were indeed related through marriage. His version of the story uses the word vanatezvara, which translates as “fathers-in-law,” in order to specify that Mutota was married into Chingoo’s family. At least one published account similarly suggests that the two figures were related through marriage, identifying Chingoo as Mutota’s tsano, or brother-in-law (Latham 2005: 24).
In Shona society, fathers-in-law wield a particular kind of authority over sons-in-law, who remain indebted to their wives’ families through bridewealth, which is often completed only in installments lasting well into a marriage. The condition of indebtedness that characterizes a son-in-law in relation to his father-in-law is reflected in the Shona proverb “Mukwasha mukuyu / usingapere kudiya,” or “A son-in-law is a fig tree / that one never finishes eating from.”
Reflecting this relationship, Sekuru Chigamba’s account suggests that Mutota approached his father-in-law Chingoo and asked for a place to live, upon which he was granted territory in Dande. Lan’s account, on the other hand, specifies only that Chingoo settled in Guruve while Mutota continued towards Dande, leaving the exact means by which Mutota acquired his territory unclear (1985: 75).
Chingoo is the founding ancestor of what historian Beach refers to as the “Nhova-Chingowo-Chipuriro dynasty” (sic), historically ruled by members of the Soko Wafawanaka totem (1978). As Sekuru Chigamba relates in the story “Interpreting for the Spirit,” he is among the members of this lineage. As one of Chingoo’s descendants, his account thus differs significantly from the narrative told to Lan by Mutota’s descendants.
While the broad outlines of nhoroondo may concur across multiple accounts, specific details of these historical accounts can vary dramatically depending on who is narrating a particular story. Indeed, we must recall that the historical narratives of nhoroondo are not only about recounting the past; rather, they are also a way of analyzing, influencing, and reshaping evolving social relations in the present.
In the case of Mutota’s migration story, a large part of Lan’s structural analysis is based in the presumption that Mutota had no affinal kin. As a result, he interprets the mythical land of Guruuswa itself as a source of biological life, describing it as “a vagina out of which the ancestors of Dande emerge” (1985: 79). Yet Lan’s interpretation may have unfolded in a dramatically differen way had it been based in a version of the myth told Chingoo’s descendants rather than Mutota’s, or if it had taken both versions into account.
Stories within stories, origins within origins
In addition to recounting the past in order to make an argument about social relations in the present, nhoroondo also bring together multiple strands, making them intensely dialogic. As a result, several other origin stories are nested within Sekuru Chigamba’s origin story of the Shona and their neighbors. Among them is an extraordinary account that explains the origins of spirit mediumship. In this account, Sekuru Chigamba suggests that spirit mediumship first emerged in Guniuswa, adding yet another layer of sigificance to this the mythical land, and one that is not accounted for in Lan’s analyais. Sekuru Chigamba’s account also identifies the great spirit of Chaminuka, which he identifies as the spirit of the Shona progenitor Murenga, as the first spirit to possess a living person.
At the same time, the story of Murenga’s descendants’ migration from Guniuswa to present-day Zimbabwe is closely related to Sekuru Chigamba origin story for the mbira, which suggests that the instrument’s sound was first heard emanating from the ocean, intimating that it must have emerged over the course of this journey. Finally, Sekuru Chigamba’s account holds within it the seeds of another origin story – that of his own lineage, known alternately as the Nhova or Soko Wafawanaka. As Sekuru Chigamba explains, the Soko Wafawanaka trace their ancestry back to Mutota’s companion Chingoo:
He’s the first. You know, he was a chief, and he gave the chieftainship to his grandchild Dumbu. And Dumbu gave it to Chitsiga. But you know, Chitsiga had his own chieftainship, and Dumbu had his own. So they were chiefs, the two of them. Now, the chief is Chipuriro. Yeah, he’s the paramount chief in Guruve.
Yet Chingoo’s name is itself taboo for members of the Soko Wafawanaka lineage. As Sekuru Chigamba explains:
Dumbu’s grandfather, we are not allowed to mention his name. I can say Dumbu’s name, and I can say his father Svembere’s name, but I’m not allowed to say his grandfather’s name. My children all know his name, but they are not allowed to say the name. But if you have somebody who knows the name, he can tell you. The one who can say his name is my sahwira. But in our family, no.
When you go to the place where Dumbu’s grandfather possesses, you don’t sing. And you don’t say anything, or ask anything. You just play quietly. And in your heart, you say something. And then when you move from there, you get what you want. It’s an overall spirit now, he knows what all people want. So when you are there you don’t need to say, “Oh, no, we need money, we need such things.” No, no – just dance. The way you dance is the way you ask, in your heart, and they will give you.
Illustrating the complexity of nhoroondo narratives, Sekuru Chigamba’s comments move seamlessly between geneological detail, information about who is empowered to recount particular aspects of history, and observations about how contemporary residents of Guruve continue to relate to the spirits of founding ancestors such as Chingoo through indigenous forms of musical practice. Illustrating the multifacted nature of nhoroondo narratives, Sekuru Chigamba’s extraordinary origin story of the Shona and their neighbors points in multiple directions simultaneously. As a result, it requires us to consider how political, religious, cultural, and musical concerns converge in a single historical account.