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Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage

Pathisa Nyathi

Publication Year: 2008

Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage won first prize in the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Awards in 2006 for Non-fiction: Humanities and Social Sciences. It is a collection of pieces of the culture of the Ndebele, Shona, Tonga, Kalanga, Nambiya, Xhosa and Venda. The book gives the reader an insight into the world view of different peoples, through descriptions of their history and life events such as pregnancy, marriage and death. "...the most enduring book ever on Zimbabwean history. This book will help people change their attitude towards each other in Zimbabwe." - Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Awards citation

Published by: African Books Collective

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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About the Author

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pp. 1-4

Zimbabwe’s Cultural Heritage is a collection of pieces on the culture of the Ndebele, Xhosa, Tonga, Shona, Kalanga, Nambiya and Venda ethnic groups in Zimbabwe. A brief historical background is given for each group, though the emphasis of this book is not on the histories of groups, but on their...

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The Ndebele of Zimbabwe constituted themselves into a migrant kingdom around 1821. The original Nguni group came out of the Zulu, Ndwandwe, Mthethwa and Swazi States. Their King was Mzilikazi Khumalo, a son of Matshobana. His mother was probably Cikose Ndiweni. The Ndebele were...

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Face to face with the spirit of Africa

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pp. 7-9

I looked at the sun, which was about to perform its daily ritual of departure. This meant the dual ceremony was about to start. It was dual because my aunt and her daughter were being ‘brought home’ simultaneously. I had looked forward to this day because I had not witnessed...

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Mzilikazi in Zululand

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pp. 10-12

Mzilikazi Khumalo was born in the 1790s in the Nquthu area of northern Nguni country in Eastern South Africa. This was before the emergence of multi-clan and powerful nation states. Society then was organised into small clans. The Khumalos, a Ntungwa Nguni group, lived under...

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The treasures of Old Bulawayo

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pp. 13-15

As we approach the summit of the low hill, we encounter a robust palisade made from mopane wood. The incomplete palisade sets the Royal Enclosure apart from the Peripheral Settlement, where the rest of the town dwellers lived. Several beehive huts have also been reconstructed...

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Elaborate Ndebele marriage rites

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pp. 16-19

The father, as the religious focus of both the material (living) and spiritual (departed ancestors) families, informed all parties of the marriage contract. He, on their behalf, acceded to and blessed the arrangement. On the young woman’s side, marriage meant subtraction or loss of an individual...

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Polygamy for a special purpose

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pp. 20-22

When the Sunday News published an article about Mr Italy Khumalo, who wed two brides, many people took a keen interest. While some hailed Khumalo for reviving an old Ndebele custom, others were not amused. The marriage arrangement in question was no ordinary polygamy, which is...

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Icholo and other wifely adornments

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pp. 23-24

“You, son of Menyezwa, how can I have icholo (the top knot)? You know its owner is late,” says the 79-year old Mrs. Thina Maphosa (nee Ncube), whose husband died a few years ago. Mrs. Maphosa, also known as Naka Onah, was born in the Gwandavale area whose headman was...

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Pregnancy and marriage

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pp. 25-26

Normally, a young woman got married before falling pregnant. As a general rule, safe sex was practised – ukuhlobonga, or ukuphelela emathangazini. When an unmarried woman became pregnant, she, in the company of her aunt, went to announce her pregnancy to the parents of the father...

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All about ‘Matshayisikhova’ - from a mobile library

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pp. 27-30

Wrinkles on both his face and neck bear testimony to his advanced age. Grey hair and feeble footsteps complete the picture of one who has witnessed many Christmases. He is Nyumbana Dube of Sankonjana in Sear Block, Matobo District. He and his family came to Sankonjana...

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Evictees’ cries of desperation fell on deaf ears

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pp. 31-32

One man grins, recalling the melodrama when the train pulled out on its way to Victoria Falls. One truck, which was supposed to carry the herdsmen, was not connected to the train. So off went the cattle, leaving behind the stranded and worried young men. Frantic efforts were made to reunite them...

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Gogo Matshazi’s slit ears ‘mark’ her as an Ndebele

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pp. 33-34

Emma Mlotswa, better known as Gogo Matshazi, a grand-daughter of the famous Mfagilele Matshazi of the Indanana village, comes to meet me at her house in Luveve from her maize field at ‘The Gumtrees’. What used to be maize fields nearby have become the suburb of...

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The millennium and the African concept of time

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pp. 35-36

As we neared the year 2000, I received several inquiries about the Ndebele word for millennium. I gave the same answer on all occasions. “Yimeleniyamu, but remember, the Ndebele, like all other African peoples, did not have the concept of a millennium...

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Why a cattle kraal is sacred

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pp. 37-39

The Sunday News of February 6, 2000 carried a story on the sacred dung scandal that rocked the tiny Swazi Kingdom. The scandal concerned the alleged theft of cow dung from the royal kraal by Parliamentary Speaker Mgabhi Dlamini. Apparently, the alleged theft of...

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The myths surrounding multiple births

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pp. 40-42

Multiple births - be they twins, triplets or quadruplets – have traditionally caused alarm and apprehension among African societies. Several myths and practices relate to twins, known as amaphahla or amawele in Ndebele and mapatya in Shona. Twins used to face similar prejudices and...

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People of Godlwayo retain identity and pride

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pp. 43-46

Godlwayo would have started as a military unit which, when its members married, transformed into a village, umuzi. Young men, from the same age group, were conscripted into a new unit, which was given a heroic name and a chief appointed over it. Esprit de corps developed among...

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pp. 47-49

“This belief (in witchcraft) is found in all African societies,” claims John Mbiti (1991). Witchcraft was so much an integral part of traditional Africa that some early whites regarded it as synonymous with African religion. Where the hunted don’t write, their own history shall be told by...

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Belief in afterlife shown in burial methods

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pp. 50-52

At Gwatemba small scale farming area we turn off into a farm. The Morris Carter Commission, set up in 1925, recommended the segregation of land. Its recommendations were translated into the Land Apportionment Act of 1930. The Act created Native Purchase Areas where Africans could...

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Rituals and taboos surrounding death

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pp. 53-55

When someone died, the spirit and the physical body separated. Members of the community performed various rituals to facilitate the smooth passage of the spirit into the next world. At the same time, measures were taken to minimise pain and shock among the surviving members...

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Sacred rituals observed during a matriarch’s burial

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pp. 56-57

My father, in his capacity as medicine man and chief of protocol, took a little beer, insipho, and ingwebu and mixed them. He smeared the faces of the ‘hyenas’. This was followed by the sprinkling of all the people gathered in the hut, ukuchela. A fly whisk, itshoba, was used. Aunt...

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The amaFengu of Zimbabwe constitute a small community that has been in Zimbabwe for over 100 years. The term Fengu, or Fingo, is derived from the word ukufenguza, which means to beg or to ask for a place to settle. The term is not accepted by the people concerned. They prefer to...

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Male circumcision among the amaXhosa of Zimbabwe

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pp. 60-62

After Mpangazitha’s death, those that went westwards were led by Mehlomakhulu. It was Mehlomakhulu who, with his followers, joined the Ndebele of Mzilikazi Khumalo in 1826 on the Likhwa (Vaal) River. This was the first Ndebele settlement called koMkhwahla. The...


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pp. 63-64

The earliest Bantu speakers settled in the Victoria Falls region between 400-500 AD. The use of ceramic style, or tradition, to recognize groups of people suggests that these early farmers were displaced at the end of the ninth century by the Later Iron Age Kalomo group. Around the...

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Tonga architecture

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pp. 65-66

There are four of us in this human trap, what might be termed a sikorokoro. It is a sad euphemism to call it a car. The thing croaks, crackles and judders along. At Dete Cross we turn right towards Tongaland. Wood carvings grace the fringes of the tarred road. Craning giraffes share the shade...

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The origin of the name Binga

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pp. 67-69

The following morning, I leave my lodge to experience dawn by the lakeside and join several other creatures in the pomp and pageantry that marks the start of a new day. The distinctive call of the fish eagle announces the advance of the sun. It is a contented and expectant call. The fish...

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Language corruption: from ‘Kasamba bezi’ to Zambezi

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pp. 70-71

With my moist hand I brush sweat off my forehead. Lethargy overcomes me. Something at the corner of the table catches my eye. A pupil’s exercise book. This should bring back fond memories of a nearly forgotten past. Leafing through the tattered book I see a letter...

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The Tonga nchelwa provides a healthier way of smoking

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pp. 72-73

There is just one more interview I wish to carry out before we start on the return journey. Why would a lot of people associate Binga with mbanje/dagga smoking? Who says the Tonga nchelwa is used for smoking mbanje? The nchelwa, or ndombondo or mfuko is that artefact...

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Bulumba: Tonga hole-in-the-nose

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pp. 74-75

The lady of the pipe has captured my heart. Wait, I am not given to polygamous tendencies. I take a quick glance at the lady. Yes indeed, there is something below her nose that raises intense curiosity in me. She parts her lips and reveals she has no front teeth on her upper...

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Zambezi River intricately tied to Tonga culture

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pp. 76-78

Although Africans were an illiterate people, they had various ways and means of preserving their history, culture, ideas on governance, interpersonal relationships and philosophy, among other things. Proverbs, riddles, songs, lullabies, praise poetry and folk-tales are important repositories...

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The Dombe language has no written form

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pp. 79-80

A short bespectacled man, bubbling with confidence, rushes in. He is George Ndlovu. He has come to relate the story of his people, the Dombe. My articles on the Tonga people nudged him into action. Hurriedly, George Ndlovu lowers his body into a chair. After the...

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The Shona, who comprise the largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe, arrived on the Zimbabwean scene more than 1000 years ago. They included the Nambiya and the Kalanga. Some Shona are found in western Mozambique and southern Zambia where they are known as the Lozi. Today...

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Link between Mapungubwe and the Shona

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pp. 83-86

ON March 6, 2000, the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s Channel 1 broadcast a documentary entitled ‘Mapungubwe, Secrets of the Sacred Hill’. Mapungubwe, a flat topped hill, is located on the South African side of the Limpopo River, near its confluence with the Shashi River. It was the...

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The magnificent Great Zimbabwe

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pp. 87-89

One of the exhibitors at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Harare was my former history teacher at Mazowe Secondary School, Ken Mufuka, now a professor in the United States. He and I had the experience of launching our books together – Madoda Lolani Incukuthu, for me...

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The origins of Khami Ruins

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pp. 90-92

The Shona at Great Zimbabwe practised collateral chieftainship succession, just as they do today, with the chieftainship moving from brother to younger brother. When it was Mutota’s turn to succeed to the throne, his candidature was contested. It was alleged he was born out of an incestuous...

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Legend of a four-eyed boy

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pp. 93-95

Bikita district is dominated by the Duma people of the Moyo totem. Their chidao is Gono Chirandu. The Duma left the Zambezi Valley to settle in the Great Zimbabwe area before moving out to Uteve in western Mozambique. In about 1700 they left Uteve to settle in the area between...

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Origins of the VaRemba

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pp. 96-98

Posselt penned the following words with regard to the origins of the VaRemba. “Judging by the features of some natives, there certainly has been an admixture of Semitic blood due to their intercourse with the early Arab traders who had settled on the East Coast and penetrated...

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Customs that lead to burial disputes

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pp. 99-101

For three weeks a wife’s corpse has been lying in the hospital mortuary. Her people will not bury her. The husband and his people dare not proceed with the burial. They fear the dire consequences of a unilateral burial. Meanwhile, the deceased wife’s close relatives are demanding a large herd of...

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Nothing unusual in demanding cellphone

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pp. 102-103

The cellphone craze has gripped Zimbabwe. The cellphone is so sought after that is has entered the realm of the traditional custom of lobola. A Harare man was reported as having demanding a cellphone from his prospective son-in-law, whose family were taken aback by what they considered...

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The Tjikalanga speaking people, or Bakalanga, are found in south–western Zimbabwe. They are also found in northern and north-western Botswana. It seems that the Tjikalanga speaking area used to be much bigger than it is today. In the north-west they were in contact with the Tonga of...

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The origin of the name Kalanga

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pp. 106-107

Where did the word Kalanga come from? The Portuguese asked that question as far back as the sixteenth century about the people they called the Mokarangas, who called themselves Vakaranga. Some historians believe the name Kalanga means ‘people of the sun’. East of Lake Tanganyika...

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Kalanga inheritance

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pp. 108-109

Among the Kalanga, the oldest son by the first wife may not have been the one who succeeded his father as chief. The senior wife was not necessarily the one who was married first, she was the one who was betrothed to the chief first. The chief was succeeded by his first son by his...

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How the Nyubi tackled epidemics

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pp. 110-111

The Matopos represents an area where man has developed a close relationship with nature. This seems to have happened at two levels. The first level relates to the hilly nature of the Matopos. The people of the area say that ‘rock has sustenance’, ‘Piyanedombo. Dombo linetshilenga’. The...

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Rain–making ceremonies are part of African culture

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pp. 112-114

Kings performed rituals to cause the rains to fall. For example, King Lobengula went into the goat byre to perform the solemn rite. During that period no guns were to be fired. Armies were not to be sent out on raids. Anything red was not to be exposed in the open...

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Mbanje originally entwined with culture

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pp. 115-117

“Did I tell you how the whites came into this country?” he inquires. He goes on to narrate how Zimbabwe was colonised. “And have you heard about Mgandane Dlodlo?” he asks, in between pinches of snuff. Though I admit I had heard about him, he goes on to narrate how the Ndebele hero...

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The Kalanga and ‘Nholo we mwizana’

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pp. 118-121

For the better part of a week, one issue dominated conversation in Bulawayo. In offices and commuter buses, at bus stops and on factory floors, the talk was about nholo we mwizana, an age old Kalanga cultural practice. Interest in the matter was generated by a story in the Sunday News about...

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Observance of traditional holy days

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pp. 122-124

The weekly rest day, which is never the same in all areas of Zimbabwe, is called chisi in Shona. There does not seem to be an Ndebele equivalent for this day. In the Nguni world, the observance only exists through contact with the Kalanga, who have come to observe the day...


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A brief history of the Nambiya

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pp. 125-128

The Nambiya were originally a breakaway group from the Rozvi State. Oral tradition indicates that they fled because their leader, Sawanga (later Hwange), had decided to set himself up as an independent ruler early in the eighteenth century. They fled north, and then west, until they...

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Ega Washington Sansole recounts Nambiya history

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pp. 129-130

Sitting next to me in the studio is Felix Moyo, a friend from my youth. Our eyes are on today’s interviewee, Ega Washington Sansole. He is here to recount the history of the Nambiya people. Felix Moyo is first to fire a salvo of questions at the former High Court Judge, a heavily built man...

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The Venda are found in South Africa’s Limpopo Province and in southeastern Zimbabwe. They, like the Manyika, Kalanga and Birwa of Zimbabwe, were spilt into two groups when colonial boundaries were marked. In South Africa, the Venda occupy the area north and...

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The significance of ‘Amalaveni’ among the Venda

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pp. 133-134

When you look at his face, something strikes you immediately. The man with two long parallel marks on each of his prominent cheeks is the controversial Bulawayo based management consultant Malobele Smith Mbezi. I have come to see him to find out about his facial...


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pp. 135


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pp. 136-137

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780797443433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780797428973

Page Count: 148
Publication Year: 2008