In this section, Sekuru Chigamba narrates his experience of Zimbabwean independence. These stories revolve around two figures from seemingly opposite sides of the Zimbabwean religious spectrum. On the one hand, Sekuru Chigamba relates a dream narrative in which the great ancestral spirit known as Chaminuka prophecizes that upon achieving independence, Zimbabweans will rule, exult, forget, and finally suffer. On the other, he discusses his involvement with the figure of Mutumwa, who belongs under the broad umbrella of the 20th century Apostolic religious movement of Johane Masowe.
In this essay, I illustrate how these seemingly opposite figures are related within a worldview that understands political and religious authority as interrelated. Through his involvement as a mbira musician, Sekuru Chigamba brought this worldview to life in many forms. These include his work composing mbira songs and lyrics dedicated to Chaminuka and other senior spirits, his creative arrangements of songs performed by Mtukumwa and his followers, and his active participation in ceremonies organized by traditionalists and Apostolic sects alike. In the process, Sekuru Chigamba’s musical engagement and oral histories have participated in what anthropologist Joost Fontein has called the creation of “alternative, moral visions of the past, present and future” (2006: 178).
Chiefs and mediums in the pre-colonial era
During the pre-colonial era, even the most powerful chiefs remained subject to the authority of the mediums of senior ancestral spirits, known as mhondoro or makombwe. In the words of historian Ruramisai Charumbira explains, this is because senior spirit mediums wielded:
…the power of the invisible, the ancestors, who had the power to bestow and withhold favors from those who did not listen to what the mhondoro/mediums told them to do, including chiefs… In fact, spirit mediums installed chiefs, and were custodians of that position on behalf of the particular people. (2008: 126).
This moral order was undermined during the colonial era, as the state sought to claim exclusive rights to appointing new chiefs. Yet these colonial efforts were constantly threatened by senior spirit mediums, who continued to hold a great deal of power. During the early 20th century in Sekuru Chigamba’s home region of Guruve, for example, the colonial government found itself forced to release a detained senior spirit medium before local residents would accept the installation of a new chief.
Even decades later, during the liberation war, senior spirit mediums such as Nehanda, Kaguvi, and Chaminuka were “very much involved in the rallying of rebels and in urging people to participate in the rebellions” (Charumbira 2008: 108). Particularly for Zimbabwean who remained connected to indigenous lifeways, their involvement in the liberation struggle suggested that senior spirit mediums would continue to play a central role in national governance after independence.
Chaminuka – Dreaming the world upside down
In the decades immediately independence, however, Sekuru Chigamba’s stories describe a world turned upside. No longer was political authority subject to the authority of senior spirit mediums. Rather, despite their instrumental role during the armed struggle, these mediums were quickly forgotten by Zimbabwe’s new leaders following the nation’s independence in 1980. Thwarting the expectations of many freedom fighters, practicing traditionalists, and rural communities with active senior mediums, this turn of events represented an inversion of the moral order.
The inversion is precisely the subject of the dream narrative in which Sekuru Chigamba recounts how the spirit of Chaminuka appeared to him just before Zimbabwean independence. Referring back to this dream in a later interview, Sekuru Chigamba told me:
Chaminuka is the person I saw in my dream, and he instructed me. He said, “You shall rule, you shall exult, you shall forget, you shall suffer.” He said, “Those are the things I am leaving you. You shall see them.” So now, we are seeing those very things. Yes, in our jubilation, we didn’t know where to begin. And yet there are things we should do.
I tried to think of what to do, since I was told by the dream. But there was no one to talk to about that. People were excited. We were ruling. Even those guys from the bush were excited that we had finished the war. But there were still some things that had to be done there.
As I will soon discuss in greater detail, Sekuru Chigamba interprets Chaminuka’s words as cautioning against a very specific type of forgetting, which took the form of disregard for the ancestral spirits who sustained the liberation struggle. By contrast, Sekuru Chigamba obliquely refers to a complex set of obligations, or “things we should do,” that should have been undertaken immediately after the war, yet were overlooked in the jubilation of attaining majority rule.
This dream prompted Sekuru Chigamba to compose a song for the mbira dzavadzimu, which he called simply “Chaminuka.”
Describing this song to me, he compared it to another of his compositions, called “Tinovatenda.”
Then I realized, when I had that dream. I dreamed of a man who was very tall. How could I respond? That is when I composed a song that is similar to “Tinovatenda,” called “Chaminuka.” Because Chaminuka is the person I saw in my dream, and he instructed me… That is how this song came to me, “Chaminuka.” So it is a sacred song.
I take up the relationship between “Tinovatenda” and “Chaminuka” in greater detail in the final section of this essay, which deals with the 20th century Apostolic religious figure of Mutumwa. Before proceeding to this section, however, I draw upon my ethnographic interview with Sekuru Chigamba, which illustrate his conception of Chaminuka as one of the most powerful spirits in the Shona cosmology.
A national spirit of unrivaled power
Sekuru Chigamba views Chaminuka as a spirit of both national importance and unrivaled power. Instead of sitting on a stool, as a normal person would do, he describes Chaminuka’s medium as sitting on the pointed end of a spear, positioned upright in the ground. As he told me, “He has no stool – his stool is a spear. Yes, he sits right on the point of the spear.”
Sekuru Chigamba further describes Chaminuka’s medium as remaining entirely unclothed:
Chaminuka didn’t have – you recognize the medium by not wearing any clothes, not wearing anything. And people suspect, “This must be Chaminuka.”
Then they have to go to a mhondoro spirit and ask. And if it is then you are given rules, and told how to take care of this person. So that’s how we know that that is Chaminuka.
And some people can say, “I’m possessed by Chaminuka,” and you see him wearing clothes, wearing shoes, and all that – you know, we don’t believe that.
As evidence of his supernatural powers, Sekuru Chigamba cites a mode of communication that involved words spoken into a snuff container, or nhekwe:
If there was something the mhondoro spirit in Guruve wanted, he would send a letter. The letter was a container of snuff. He would say some words there, and then you would take that nhekwe to Chaminuka.
And when you presented that nhekwe to Chaminuka, he would read the words and say, “Okay, I understood.” So for the reply, he would put snuff in another container again, and you would take it back.
This is for communication between the spirits. It’s not for us; it’s difficult. My father used to do that. He used to go to Mt. Darwin and to Mashonaland West, to Hurungwe and Makonde. He used to go there with a container of snuff.
In his extended oral history of the Shona people, Sekuru Chigamba suggests that Chaminuka was the first spirit to ever possess a living medium. Summarizing this story, he told me:
The spirit first was speaking on the grass, and people burnt the grass. Then the spirit turned to speak on a tree. And people cut the tree. And the spirit turned to speak on a stone. They broke the stone. Then the spirit turned to speak on a human being. Then they said, “Oh, the spirit has turned.”
That’s where the name came from, “Chinhu chiye chaminuka. Chakutaura pamunhu” – “That thing has shifted, it is now speaking on a person.” So there wasn’t a name like Chaminuka. Chaminuka is, you know, the spirit has turned to speak on a human being. So they were unable to kill that human being.
Reflecting this initial emergence, the name Chaminuka might best be translated as “a shifting phenomenon.”
Chaminuka as “proto-nationalist” spirit
At the same time, Sekuru Chigamba clearly identifies Chaminuka as the spirit of the Shona progenitor, Murenga. As he states in his account of the birthplace of mediumship:
It isn’t known how Murenga died, but upon his death his voice carried on speaking. First it spoke from the grass while they were in Guniuswa. That is where it began.
From this perspective, Chaminuka represents what historian Terence Ranger has termed a “proto-nationalist” spirit (1982: 350). Indeed, Sekuru Chigamba considers all other spirits within Zimbabwe, including the most senior mhondoro spirits, to be “disciples” of Chaminuka. As he told me,
Chaminuka is important because it’s like Jesus. The spirit led people from Tanganyika to Zimbabwe… And it’s like, you know, Jesus had his disciples. And Chaminuka also had his disciples, because Zimbabwe is very big. You can’t all go to one place. You have to go to different places, to find there are mhondoro spirits. In all corners of Zimbabwe, they have mhondoro spirits.
Terence Ranger’s work work reminds us that stories about Chaminuka were re-told, embellished, and politicized throughout the 20th century. As a result, the contemporary view of Chaminuka’s stature may differ significantly from the spirit’s actual role in the pre-colonial period.
In particular, Ranger has suggested that Chaminuka’s perceived role as a proto-nationalist spirit is one of Zimbabwe’s many “invented traditions,” produced through colonial entanglements and encounters. He locates this narrative’s emergence specifically in Arthur Shearly Cripps’s 1928 account, which positioned Chaminuka as “a hero for the future as well as for the past” (1982: 350). Ranger further ties this “centralized, hierarchical model of Shona religion” to the influential spirit medium Muchatera Mujuru, who claimed to be possessed with the spirit of Chaminuka and served an influential role in informing 20th century scholarship on Shona history, religion, and music (1982: 352).
Through their emphasis on Chaminuka’s unrivaled powers, Sekuru Chigamba’s stories seem to support Ranger’s argument that Chaminuka may have been re-conceptualization as a proto-nationalist hero during the 20th century. Among other details, Sekuru Chigamba describes Chaminuka as holding prophetic powers, enabling him to foretell the arrival of European colonists. This assertion is widespread in Zimbabwean oral narratives about Chaminuka, and is frequently joined by the belief that Chaminuka prophecized his own death.
Interpreting these narratives, Ranger argues that during “a period of rapid and traumatic change, these stories proclaimed that the Shona prophet had not been overthrown and overcome but that even in his death, and by means of it, he comprehended events and controlled them” (1982: 350).
At the same time, Sekuru Chigamba’s stories about Chaminuka – and particularly his dream narrative – fall squarely into what Joost Fontein has called an “ancestral language… through which grievances about the present are articulated alongside moral imaginations of the way things could or should be” (2006: 173).
In this context, both Sekuru Chigamba’s dream narrative and subsequent composition of a song about Chaminuka serve to remind listeners of the moral order governing relations between political rulers and senior ancestral spirits in the pre-colonial era. In the process, they advocate for reshaping moral relations in the present.
Mutumwa – Reimagining the moral order
Somewhat unexpectedly, Sekuru Chigamba’s stories place Chaminuka in dialogue with an Apostolic religious leader known simply as Mutumwa (Messenger/Angel). Explaining this name, Sekuru Chigamba told me,
The word Mutumwa refers to a spirit sent by God. Yes, he himself would be unaware, but it would just come and speak, saying, “I was told to do this.” Yes, that would be the spirit speaking, speaking to the people. No one knew the spirit’s name – people just called him a messenger. They simply said, “Mutumwa.”
One of the most fascinating figures to appear in Sekuru Chigamba’s stories, Mutumwa falls under the broad umbrella of the Apostolic movement of Johane Masowe, a religious movement founded in the early 20th century. Indeed, scholar Phillip Musoni identifies Mutumwa as one of the “founding disciples of Johane Masowe” (Musoni 2017: 21).
While the Johane Masowe movement has been widely recognized, studied, and written about, Mutumwa and his followers remain exceedingly obscure. I suggest that this obscurity is largely related to how the group’s approach trouble the boundaries between traditional and Apostolic practices, challenging conventional narratives of Zimbabwe’s evolving religious landscape. At the same time, concerns regarding the loss of productive land under colonization unites the various branches of the Johane Masowe movement.
Mutumwa’s followers believe that he was born on Christmas Day in 1909, making him 109 years old at the time of his death in 2015. Originally called Hazvinei Chikomo, he was also known variously as Baba Micho (Father Michael), Maidhona (Madonna), and Svingarehoko (Bundle of pegs).
Within the Johane Masowe Apostolic movement, Mutumwa’s sect is known either as Johane Masowe YeChishanu Nyenyedzi Nomwe (The Friday Church of Johane Masowe of the Seven Stars) or Johane Masowe YeChishanu Nguwo Tsvuku (The Friday Church of Johane Masowe of the Colored Garments). The group’s headquarters is located in the Chiweshe rural area near Banje mountain, an image of which appears at the top of this page. As Sekuru Chigamba states
Before we arrive at Chimbikiza, there is a place called Chiburi. He was located to the West. That is where he was. Chimbikiza was further up. But the mountain there in Chimbikiza, that is where he used to go to hold his prayers. He could spend forty days on that mountain, which is called Banje.
Following his death, Mutumwa was buried at Banje, which remains an important religious site within the Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe sect. In his stories, Sekuru Chigamba further identifies another nearby mountain, called Haha, as a second site of religious importance for Mutumwa and his followers.
The work of social scientist Obediah Dodo offers one of the few sources outlining Mutumwa’s unique position in the Zimbabwean religious landscape. As Dodo writes, Mutumwa’s sect emerged in the late 1950s, after he was specifically assigned to convert
…all the people who still believed and practiced traditional religion especially spirit mediums (makombwe). His specific area of operation was defined as Guruve and Chiweshe because they were some of the areas still adamant and resisting change. He was expected to ensure that all traditionalists had been recruited into Christianity at whatever cost… Michael’s assignment subsequently led to the creation of what is now called Johane Masowe Nguo Tsvuku (Coloured Garments) in 1958. (2017)
Reviewing this history, Dodo concludes that Mutumwa’s sect lies outside of the mainstream currents of Johane Masowe Apostolic movement. As he states, “This is not a church but a ‘transit bridge’ for all converted traditionalists.”
Praying to the ancestors
Dodo similarly sees close links between Mutumwa’s Nyenyedzi Nomwe/Nguwo Tsvuku sect and the Madzimbahwe sect founded by James Dzivaguru. According to Dodo, the Madzimbahwe sect is closely allied with precolonial spirit mediumship and seeks
…to ensure that Africans do not abandon their cultures, traditions and ways of belief. The church therefore adopted a completely different modus of worship whereby congregants had to pray to God through their ancestral spirits and not Jesus Christ. (2017).
Sekuru Chigamba similarly suggests links between Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe and Madzimbahwe. Most importantly, he describes Mutumwa as praying to the female spirit of Ambuya Nehanda, who, like Chaminuka, rose to become a spirit of national important. In his stories, this aspect of Mutumwa’s worship quite clear produces friction between Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe and other Apostolic groups.
For example, Sekuru Chigamba describes an incident during which one group refuses Mutumwa’s assistance, leading a cyclone to carry off all of the musasa trees in the sacred grove where they worshipped. Narrating the dialogue between Mutumwa and these worshippers, Sekuru Chigamba states
They replied, “No. We don’t engage in Madzimbahwe rites, we follow Jesus.” He said, “Fine. I pray to Ambuya Nehanda, but I was sent here to conduct a rite so that your affairs will proceed smoothly.”
Tellingly, the worshippers in this story refer to Mutumwa’s sect as Madzimbahwe rather than Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe, suggesting a certain fluidity between the two groups.
Traditional ceremonial technologies
Further linking the two groups, Obediah Dodo describes both Madzimbahwe and Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe as using traditional “accessories” such as snuff, ngoma drums, hosho, and mbira, as well as common Apostolic ritual objects such as “clay pots and bowls, the use of white cloths, water, stones and reeds” (2017). In relation to Madzimbahwe rituals, Dodo writes:
During the early phases of the ceremony, it appears like a Christian religious ceremony except after some moments that the ceremony is transformed into a traditional appeasement party characterised by spirits’ manifestation, ululation, playing of hosho and mbira. (2017)
For ethnomusicologist Tony Perman, material objects such as snuff, hosho, and mbira constitute both “ceremonial technologies” (2020: 66) and “multisensory signs of experience” (2020: 6). Using a semiotic approach based in the work of Charles Peirce, he argues that these material signs are indexically connected to spirit possession, and specifically meant to “invite, arouse, and engage with” the ancestral spirits through living spirit mediums (2020: 55).
Echoing Sekuru Chigamba’s stories of spirit mediums sending messages to each other via nhekwe snuff containers, the relationship between snuff and spirit possession is so strong that Perman describes meeting at least one medium for whom snuff constituted “the only element absolutely essential to become possessed” (ibid.)
Dodo’s description’s of how the Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe and Madzimbahwe sects have brought aspects of pre-colonial religious practice together with emergent forms of Apostolic faith movements suggest that these branches of the Joahne Masowe movement are deeply syncretic. In conversation, Sekuru Chigamba offered a similar assessment, telling me, “We call him Mutumwa, but we do not know the name of his spirit. Even in the church, they do not realize that also he prays, he also practices traditional religion.”
Johane Masowe and the struggle for land
Despite these differences, shared concerns regarding colonial land thefts united the Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe sect with the more central branches of the Johane Masowe movement. As scholar Isabel Mukonyora writes, Johane Masowe and his followers worshiped in marginalized pieces of land known as sasa, or “fringes,” which they renamed masowe, or “sacred forests.” According to Mukonyora, this approach to worship was decidedly political in nature, convening “autonomous meetings of groups of discontented Africans” precisely in the type of marginal spaces left to them after the colonial regime’s expropriation of fertile lands (2007: 12). As she states:
Johane Masowe breached colonial norms by calling people out to pray in places that Rhodesian administrators wished to keep empty and then vanishing, only to surface in another place whose fringes could serve as sites for prayer (Ibid.).
Colonial land theft is a recurring theme in Sekuru Chigamba’s stories. Describing his early experiences with the type of mbira known as njari, for example, he describes a blind musician who relocated to Guruve after being displaced by European settlers in 1943. Sekuru Chigamba’s own family was similarly forced to move from one side of the Mavare River to the other in 1947, when the land they lived on was sold to a European settler:
We were staying on the other side of the river… And it was sold. The land was sold to a farmer, and it became a farm. Then we moved to the other place. We had to move and destroy the houses.
The large-scale theft of African land had far-reaching consequences, from rendering families increasingly insecure during times of drought to imposing new political formations. The blind njari player Sekuru Chigamba encountered as a child, for example, came to Guruve as part of a massive effort to resettle Chief Bepura and his subjects. As a result, the territory historically ruled over by Chief Chipuriro became subject to both chiefs’ authority.
Driving wood into rock
Sekuru Chigamba’s stories suggest that Mutumwa was actively engaged in reclaiming land stolen by the British colonists. While the freedom fighters sought to overthrow the colonial regime through armed guerilla tactics, however, Mutumwa’s approach was decidedly spiritual in nature.
During Zimbabwe’s liberation war, Sekuru Chigamba reports that Mutumwa traveled throughout the country carrying a bundle of wooden pegs, earning him the nickname “Svingarehoko” (Bundle of pegs). These pegs were carved from the wood of the muzhanje (Uapaca kirkiana), a sacred tree subject to certain use restrictions, and frequently used as a site of prayer (Chitukutuku 2019; Kwashirai 2009).
Yet Sekuru Chigamba reports that Mutumwa’s wooden pegs could miraculously penetrate even solid rock. In his words, “There is yet another thing, which I haven’t yet managed to understand. He has pegs carved from muzhanje wood, and he can strike them upon any stone, and they penetrate into the rock.”
Both the general imagery and the specific language of this story is significant. The image of Mutumwa driving wooden pegs into solid rock falls squarely within the type of nhoroondo narrative that recounts miraculous acts performed by ancestral figures. Sekuru Chigamba’s ancestor Chitsiga, for example, is remembered as having disappeared into a rock after realizing he had been defeated in battle. As Sekuru Chigamba told me
He went on a big rock and said, “You missed me!” And people went there, and tried to kill him. Then he made a gesture with his hand, and the rock cracked open. He went inside the rock, and when the people came, the rock closed back up. And they said, “No, we didn’t see him! Where is he, where is he?” And the rock opened up. Then they saw him – “Here he is, here he is!” Then the rock closed again. And that was his grave.
By using the Shona words “kurovera hoko,” or “hitting pegs into place,” Sekuru Chigamba also situates Mutumwa’s actions in relation to colonial land claims. In his story describing the European struggle for land, Sekuru Chigamba uses precisely the same words to describe how Portuguese and British settlers “pegged” colonial boundaries:
Now, the Portuguese were foolish. They secured the boundary with wooden pegs. The British secured it with iron pegs. They marked it by pouring concrete and inserting iron. So the Portuguese didn’t do that. They simply cut a piece of wood and fastened it in place, saying, “This is our boundary.”
Much like the Portuguese, Mutumwa similarly used wooden rather than metal stakes. Yet the efficacy of his pegs derived not from the material from which they were constructed, but rather from the spiritual power with which they were imbued. In this way, he succeeded in driving wooden pegs into solid rock – an apt metaphor for resistance to the seemingly impervious colonial regime.
Sekuru Chigamba describes Mutumwa as pegging land wherever he traveled, thereby extending his moral authority across a broad area of the country. At the same time, he recounts Mutumwa as deliberately targeting symbolic locations, such as a statue of Cecil Rhodes:
When this country was still called Rhodesia, there was a statue of Rhodes in Third Street. He drove his pegs into it, circling it all round and driving in the pegs. There were soldiers sitting there, because they said people might destroy that statue. So they never left it unattended, they were always sitting there guarding it. But the soldiers didn’t see him.
He arrived behind of the soldiers, and circled all the way around. When he got there, he prayed right behind the soldiers. Once he had finished praying he crossed in and drove in pegs as he circled around. Then he came back out, and he left.
As a means of staking boundaries and claiming territory, the act of pegging land was closely associated with colonial oppression and land theft. By appropriating this inherently colonial practice, imbuing it with spiritual rather than secular meaning, and deploying it for the purposes of national liberation, Mutumwa thus subverted the colonial logic of land.
“Fill the Rivers with Rain”
Undermining the expectations of freedom fighters, the struggle for land was not resolved following independence, as the nation’s new government was barred from large-scale land reforms by the Lancaster House Agreement. Compounding this problem, the country was gripped by drought throughout much of the 1980s, with several consecutive years of crop failure.
It was during this period that Sekuru Chigamba began performing mbira during ceremonies held by Mutumwa and his followers to pray for rain. During these events, Sekuru Chigamba recalls the group of worshippers “singing their church songs.” Reflecting Nguwo Tsvuku/Nyenyedzi Nomwe’s ambiguous position with respect to both traditional and Apostolic religious practices, however, he immediately qualifies this statement with the caveat, “we can say they were Christian songs, but the words were not relating to Christianity.”
Sekuru Chigamba soon arranged one of these songs, “Zadzai Hova NeMvura,” or “Fill the Rivers with Rain,” for the mbira dzavadzimu. After witnessing the song’s power at Mutumwa’s ceremonies, he began to play it regularly with his son Garadziva, as well as other family members. Each time he did, his belief in the song’s spiritual efficacy was renewed:
Especially when we were living in Rushinga, sometimes we would see, “Ah, there’s no rain. Our crops are withering, so what should we do?” We used to sing “Zadzai Hova Nemvura.” And after a day or two, the rain would come.
Tute and Garadziva Chigamba, “Zadza Hova Nemvura,” from the album Tute and Garadziva Chigamba & Forward Kwenda: Gandanga (Mavembe) Tuning Mbira 12 April 1986
“We Thank Thee, Spirits” – Mutumwa and Chaminuka
Sekuru Chigamba also specifically associates his original mbira song “Tinovatenda,” or “We thank thee, spirits,” with the figure of Mutumwa. As he told me, “When I start to play that song, Mutumwa emerges in my vision, coming toward me. He just comes – I don’t know how.”
Directing echoing his description of Chaminuka, Sekuru Chigamba proceeds immediately to compare Mutumwa to Jesus:
What we read about in the books about Jesus, that is precisely what he also used to do. Among other things, he would sing out so powerfully when he was at one of his church meetings. And you would see him rise up in the air, circling above the people gathered at the meeting, and then return and sit back down in his place.
Sekuru Chigamba composed “Tinovatenda” and “Chaminuka” during the same brief period of time, and both are set apart from all of his other original songs by the length of their ostinato cycles, which last for 60 beats rather than the more typical 48 beats. Indeed, throughout the mbira’s extensive traditional repertory, only one song, known as “Todzungaira” or “Hondo,” appears to have the same 60-beat cycle length.
Throughout Sekuru’s Stories, other important parallels between Mutumwa and Chaminuka include their miraculous powers, their common involvement in the nationalist struggle, and how their names were derived from the mysterious origin of their respective spirits.
Finally, Sekuru Chigamba describes Chaminuka and Mutumwa as delivering strikingly similar messages at the turn of Zimbabwean independence. Echoing the dream narrative in which he hears Chaminuka prophecize that Zimbabweans would rule, exult, forget, and suffer, Sekuru Chigamba recalls listening to Mutumwa offer a similar caution to his followers:
We were told the same thing again by VaMutumwa. He said, “You are rejoicing too readily. Yet you haven’t figured out where to begin. You are celebrating, yes. But you don’t know where to start.”
Like Chaminuka’s prophecy, Mutumwa’s words underscore the importance of remembering the ancestral spirits who sustained the liberation struggle. From this perspective, the new nation should have been inaugurated not simply at the ballot box, but also through national ceremonies held to express gratitude to the ancestors, seek their blessings upon the nation’s new leaders, and appease the spirits of people who had been killed during the liberation war.
From celebration to suffering
Several decades after independence, Zimbabwe entered a period of intense economic, political, and social disruption, with one particularly harsh wave of suffering during 2008. Recalling this time as “a terrible year,” Sekuru Chigamba sought to communicate the importance of fulfilling the nation’s obligations to the ancestors to government officials. In it, he weaves Chaminuka and Mutumwa together, creating a narrative tapestry bringing together the past, present, and future:
2008 was terrible. People died, because there was nothing to eat… So that’s when I said, “Oh yes, this is what Chaminuka said, ‘You shall suffer.'” And I wrote a letter that I wanted to give to ZANU(PF), so that they would think about my dream.
What I think is that people should go to Chitungwiza, to the place where Chaminuka was staying. They should go there and do a ceremony, just a ceremony. Even the Ministers should go there, and the President. He should spend the day there, taking off his shoes and sitting down while people dance. If he can, he should also dance.
I want them to be there to do the ceremony so that people will get land. And people should also get rain, and their crops should be blessed. And all diseases, and everything will be put into the hands of Chaminuka.
So you tell those people, but they don’t understand. You know, it’s hard. You get into protocol – you have to go to this one, and this one, and this one. And you come back again, and you come to this Ministry, and you go again to this one. It takes time. If at all they could understand what I tell them they would organize, and go and do it.
But since Mutumwa has died, I don’t know who can take over his place to go and make the offering there. They have to go and offer words to Chaminuka. We need a spirit like Mutumwa. He’s supposed to be there to do that. And then things will go well.
In this narrative, Sekuru Chigamba expresses his unwavering belief in the ancestral spirits, who represent the ultimate source of authority, benevolence, and moral order. At the top of this moral hierarchy, he places the figure of Chaminuka. At the same time, he expresses concern that the protocol for approaching the ancestors is increasingly being forgetten. With Mutumwa’s death, Sekuru Chigamba sees the Zimbabwean nation’s ability to fulfill its spiritual obligations diminishing, foreclosing relationships with the past as well as the future.
Throughout this section of the site, Sekuru Chigamba’s narratives quite clearly fall into what anthropologist Joost Fontein describes as the “numerous, diverse accounts of the daily assistance of the spirit mediums and the ancestral spirits themselves, during the struggle; ranging from those that describe the personal inspiration derived from visions or dreams of relatives, ancestors or larger ‘national’ spirits” (2006: 175). Sekuru Chigamba’s also richly textured stories bring alive a large body of scholarship on the role of spirit mediums in Zimbabwe’s long struggle for freedom from colonial rule (Lan 1985, Beach 1979, Ranger 1985, Ranger 1982, Charumbira 2008, Daneel 1995 & 1998; Maxwell 1999; Alexander 1995).
While the role of spirits during the liberation war is well documented, far less attention has been paid to relations between spiritual and political authority in Zimbabwe in the post-colonial period. Among the exceptions are Norma Kriger and Joost Fontein, who have addressed evolving relations between spirit mediums and war veterans, pointing to the war veterans’ “shared legacy of co-operation with spirit mediums, ancestors and other ‘traditional authorities'” (2006: 173). Yet scholars have remained largely silent on post-colonial relationships either between senior spirit mediums and local chiefs, or between these mediums and the ruling party.
In his narratives, Sekuru Chigamba weaves the spiritual figures of Chaminuka and Mutumwa into a particular interpretive framework, positioning ancestral spirits rather than political leaders as the ultimate arbitrers of power. His stories about music, power, and the past thus forcefully call attention to what Fontein refers to as contemporary “…disparity between the ideology of the ruling political elite and the practices, experiences and performances of guerrillas, spirit mediums and others acting on the ground…” (2006: 167). In the words of Sekuru Chigamba:
We are treating the vadzimu spirits as if they have become worthless. But what they have given us is the very source of our life. That is what makes God to know that we are here, that we are satisfied. All of that is known by our midzimu spirits.