My father was a mutapi, who translated for the mhondoro spirits. A mutapi is like an interpreter in the high court. The mhondoro spirits have their own Shona, full of proverbs and codicals. So if you don’t understand them, you need someone to interpret for you.
My father was doing that – he was interpreting between the spirit and the people in Kamuchanyu village, in Guruve. That’s where the mhondoro spirit Dumbu was. The spirit is the original spirit of the Nhova people. I am Nhova, like the royal families of Soko Wafawanaka, our clan.
People trusted going to Dumbu for treatment, because Dumbu was a mhondoro spirit. So many people used to go there – even people from town. Different people from different areas used to go there because Dumbu was so strong, and what he told people was true. If there was anyone in the Guruve area who had committed taboo, he would mention it – “Go to such-and-such a village. There is someone who has committed a taboo. Bring him here.” And they would bring him.
The room for the mhondoro spirit is called dendemaro. It is special – it is a courtroom for the spirit. It is a big round hut with two doors, one at the back and one at the front. On one side there is a low platform, raised five inches from the ground. So the spirit lies there. And women sit on one side, while men sit on the other side. We all sit on the floor. And people must respect that room as sacred.
My father used to go there every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. When you want to ask something, you must known which day to go. Tuesday is for all people in the clan to go and ask our histories. And everyone is allowed to take his paper and his pen, to write them down. Thursday is for people from outside, and Friday for people from the local area. And Saturday is for people from outside.
Let’s say I have some problems and I need to go there. If I have problems, I have to go on Tuesday. I know Tuesday is our day for all the people in the clan. It’s our day to ask about history. About what happened before, when our people came from Arusha, which is Guniuswa. About how they came here, which places they settled, their children and the grandchildren, and all that. Then you write down everything.
My father was representing our family, including his father and his father’s children. There were representatives from all of the different families; they all came. Mostly, they chose the last-born in the family, like my father. He was the last-born in the family, because my great-grandfather had two wives, and my father was the last-born of his mother’s children. So they chose my father. And there, at the other wife’s, they chose someone else. So they went together; they had to be there together.
There would be different people from different areas. My father was representing Chief Bepura, and someone else was representing Chief Chipuriro, and someone was representing the area nearby. And the sahwira must be there also. There could be a sahwira from the Nyandoro clan, and there had to be a sahwira from the VaRozvi.
There are some people who have cases brought against them, and when they are there the mhondoro spirit make his ruling against who don’t obey the rules of the spirit in the area.
Those vatapi – my father, the sahwira, and the other two from different places – they all stayed there. If one falls asleep, another one has to take part. But they were not allowed to sleep! They must witness, all of them. Because someone might say, “No, I didn’t hear that.” And one of them might say, “At the same time you were told this and this, this and this.” And if the three or four people agreed, then you were guilty.
For example, there is the day we call chisi, when we don’t go to the fields even during the rainy season. So on that day, there are some people who go anyway. But the mhondoro spirit can send somebody to go and call that person, and bring him to the spirit. And he’s told, “Every other day, you can go. But on the day of chisi, you are not allowed to do so.” If he says, “No, I will still do so,” then they let him go. But you will meet with something there, like lightening, or a baboon. Or you will see a lion, and run away from there.
Yeah, that’s what they do. The other rules are that you are not allowed to take your child as your wife. It is taboo. And to take your sister is taboo, or to take your mom is taboo. So for all those, you have to pay a fine.
A mhondoro spirit is like a chief. The same as the rules you get from the chiefs, they are the rules you get from the mhondoro. They ask you to stay together with other people. You must stay well with them. And they don’t want people fighting. They don’t want people taking dangerous herbs – they don’t like that. And some people still do, but they will call you, and make you throw away those herbs.
Mostly they ask you to obey your chiefs, because the chief is installed by the spirit. When you have someone who is supposed to become chief, the spirit must be there, presenting the crown to the chief. So the chief is next to the spirit, because he is given all the rules by the spirit. And the chief has to spread the rules to the people. And if you disobey the rules, then the chief will take you to the mhondoro spirit, and you’ll be dealt with there.
Some of the days, they would play drums. But when we went just for the spirit’s sake it wasn’t a ceremony, it was just a gathering. We would go for the spirit alone. And when it was around four, at dawn, then we would talk to the spirit.
But when we wanted to pray for something, we had to bring drums. We played drums the whole night, and people danced the whole night. And when the spirit possesses, people ask whatever they ask there. The spirit will tell them, “Now I will take your prayer, and relay it back. Then in a few days, I will have your answer.” Or even at that very same moment, you can be given the answer.
Music was in me all the time. When people played the drums and sang I had to be there. Because my father was playing drums. The drums were sort of like dinhe, but there’s a little difference there, and they call it mangwingwindo.
The Chitsiga Drummers & Singers of Guruve perform the mangwingwindo song “Chitsiga Wauya.” From the album Chitsiga – Drummers & Singers of Guruve, 2010
So my father used to play the little drum, which we call mito. It has the highest sound. He was very good, and no one wanted to miss hearing him play. And I used to go with him and listen to his playing.
And my mother was a very good dancer, and she had a very good voice. When she sang, well, you would nearly cry. And when she danced, oh, she was one of the best dancers! So, my father, my mother – how could I leave it? I also had to be there.
My father was going there for so many years. He was working just on a nearby farm, so he used to go every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. And I used to go there with him. Even after I came to Harare, I used to go with him whenever I went back home. We used to go together. Then some years ago, Dumbu’s medium died, and he didn’t chose a new medium. But Karitundundu, one of Dumbu’s seventeen sons, now possesses a woman in Raffingora. That’s were the spirit is now.