Election and installation of traditional leaders

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Chapter III Shona novelists and their treatment of socio-economic issues of the pre-colonial era


The previous chapter focuses on the circumstances that gave birth to the socio-economic issues presented by fiction analysed in this study. Such background is also the guidepost from which the selected fiction is analysed. The current chapter explores the way current Shona novelists view and portray the socio-economic issues of the Shona past. The analysis seeks to establish if the writers’ presentation of these issues is objective and how different their world-view is from that espoused by early and colonial writers. Among the contemporary writers to be analysed are Zvarevashe and Matsikiti both of whom are writer-priests, and it would be interesting to note how their perception of the issues on this past departs from that conveyed by early Christian writers like Chakaipa and Kuimba. Equally important to note, is how Zvarevashe’s vision today differs from that of the colonial period (since he happens to write in these two eras) and the reasons behind such disparity. The chapter examines a number of customs and values of the Shona as conveyed through Mutasa’s Nhume Yamambo (1990) and Misodzi, Dikita Neropa (1991), Matsikiti’s Rakava Buno Risifemberi (1995), Zvarevashe’s Dzinza RavaGovera VaChirumhanzu NaMutasa (1998) and Tsodzo’s Mudhuri Murefurefu (1993). Among issues to be discussed are the election and installation of traditional leaders, war and peaceful coexistence and the depiction of Shona religion. It also discusses the killing of triplets; depiction of marriage customs such as kuzvarira, daughter-pledging and kutema ugariri, mortgaging one’s labour to have a wife; the images of women and beer-drinking together with contemporary writers’ attitude to the colonial myth about the Shona people’s industriousness. In addition, this chapter strives to determine if the Shona past is of any significance to today’s Zimbabwe.

Election and installation of traditional leaders

Mutasa’s Nhume Yamambo (1990) and Zvarevashe’s Dzinza RavaGovera VaChirumhanzu NaMutasa (1998) portray the traditional Shona custom of electing and installing a leader. The two are well-researched works of art by a traditionalist and a Christian writer respectively. The two writers’ motive is to correct the wrongs that earlier Shona novelists had propagated through their fiction. These two novels satisfactorily fulfil two of the important tasks of committed African writers – being researchers and searchers of the truth about a people’s history (Niane, 1965: viii) and being teachers of this history to contemporary and future generations (ibid: vii and Achebe, 1975: 45). They have gathered a lot of true information about the people’s way of life in the past, which they present for the benefit of the contemporary Zimbabwean society. Their portrayal of past life is more realistic if compared to that by early writers on the same subject. In the prologue to his Nhume Yamambo (1990), Mutasa boldly makes his intentions known:
Chiindai munodzima nhema dziya dzamunosiudzana panyaya yerudzi urwu (1998: 7).
Imi mose muri kundinzwa totai nomazvo mugozvitsetsenura sezvazviri kuhama neshamwari dzenyu musingadarikiri kana chinhu chimwe (ibid: 8).
Go and do away with all the lies that you have been circulating about these people [the Rozvi].
All of you, who are hearing me, get everything well and relate it to relatives and friends without omitting even a single aspect.
In the same vein and spirit, Zvarevashe in his prologue to Dzinza RavaGovera VaChirumhanzu NaMutasa (1998) also states that:
…ndaitsvaka kuziva nhoroondo yechokwadi yeMhazi kuti ndigoinyora zvakanaka; kwete zvayakaitwa zvekukanywa-kanywa navarungu vasingazivi kunyora… (p. vi).
Chinangwa changu chikuru ndechokuda kudzidzisa, zvikuru zvizvarwa zvamangwana…(p. xi)
I strove to know the true history of the Mhazi clan so that I could write it well; and not distort it as was done by the whites who do not know to write …
My main aim is to teach, especially the future generations…
What is clear is that these novelists acknowledge the existence of literature that distorts the Shona people’s past life and culture. These misrepresentations have been championed by, both missionaries and some early Shona writers. The two novelists feel that it is their mandate to present truthful experiences, images and world-view about the Shona people. Such true presentations would help today’s citizens to have an informed view of their history and achievements.
One of the social institutions that these two writers portray objectively is kingship/chieftainship. It contradicts Zvarevashe in Gonawapotera, (1978) who presents the election and installation of a Shona traditional leader, a chief, as marred by violence, brutal murder and self-centredness in the form of Chipeperekwa’s sons who murder each other in succession. Mutasa in Nhume Yamambo (1990) and Zvarevashe in Dzinza RavaGovera VaChirumhanzu NaMutasa (1998) show that the institution of kingship, though with its negative characteristics, was largely orderly, peaceful and admirable.
In Nhume Yamambo (1990), after a heated dialogue on why Mabweadziva, the Shona religious cult supports the lazy, greed and self-acclaimed king Dyembeu, instead of Chirisamhuru the rightful heir to the throne, Mavhudzi, the religious priest testifies to Chuwe Tavada, Chirisamhuru’s emissary that:
Umambo madzoro hunoravanwa. Hauzi hwamai saka hunoinda nedzimba. Nhasi uno huri mumba maDyembeu… Dyembeu mukuru kuna Chirisamhuru. Itsika yepi yokuti munun’una atangire mukoma kugara umambo? (1990: 111).
Kingship alternates. It is not tied to one house; it revolves around families. Today Dyembeu is the king…Dyembeu is an elder to Chirisamhuru. Whose custom is it that a younger brother sits on the throne first before the elder?
Mutasa brings out two truths about Shona leadership. One is that the election of a traditional leader was done by alternating the royal families and by following a definite pattern, of age groups (Gombe, 1998: 196). According to the custom, being elderly, Dyembeu had both the privilege and right to sit on the throne before his younger brother Chirisamhuru. The latter could only assume leadership after the death of the elder brother. The other truth is that this norm was not always observed as some could usurp the throne from deserving members or families (ibid). This usually came in the wake of some households or individuals who did not want to patiently wait for their turn to be in post. By ignoring and bypassing the need to rotate households, turmoil erupted.
That royal families take turns to sit on the throne is observed by Zvarevashe in Dzinza RavaGovera VaChirumhanzu NaMutasa (1998). He presents the various royal families that alternate the throne of the Chihota chieftainship of Tembo as follows: Tunha is the first to be named Chief Chihota, followed by his son Bindu who is then followed by his young brother Mudzudzu (Zana). After Mudzudzu, Zimheni is installed, followed by Manjanga, Bindu’s son, then Chipitiri who is succeeded by Nzvere, Manjanga’s son. Nzvere is succeeded by Pasipamire of Bindu’s family, followed by Savanhu, Nzvere’s son, and then comes Zihowa of Chakabvapasi’s family, followed by Chakanetsa and lastly, Pauro Mutero. In the Manicaland area, after the death of the recalcitrant King Govera, Chapuwanyika his eldest son is ordained king; and when he dies fifteen years later, his younger brother, Pfete, is next in line. In another instance, in Gutu, after the death of Mhepo, Mutanga, being the eldest among those who had come along with the deceased, is ordained the overseer and chief of the dynasty:
Pakafa Mhepo, Mutanga ndiye akaitwa sarapavana sokuti ndiye akanga ari mukuru pana vamwe varume vaya vakauya naMhepo (p.87)
When Mhepo died, Mutanga was elected as the overseer because he was the eldest among those who had come along with Mhepo.
Zvarevashe, like Mutasa acknowledges the importance of the rotation and age in the succession system. Succession is presented as orderly in cases such as these. Gombe (1986: 90-91) and Bourdillon (1976: 106-107) both prolific scholars on Shona traditional values and practices concur with the novelists that the hallmark of Shona traditional philosophy on succession was, “Ushe madzoro hunoravanwa” (Kingship/chieftainship alternates). This alternation was meant to instil peace and order since every household and age group or generation would have a chance to sit on the throne. Again, the fact that such succession followed definite generations was a sure way of avoiding young and inexperienced people from ruling, worse if they have to rule over their elderly whom tradition normally associates with wisdom. As Mkanganwi observes, “as a normal person, it is impossible for you to be wiser than your father” (in Chiwome and Gambahaya [eds], 1998: 13). Hence, at each given time, the eldest and accordingly and ideally, the wisest of all people alive was king or chief, a position that required wisdom.
The Shona had plausible reasons as to why a traditional leader had to be experienced and knowledgeable. The king or chief, was a representative of the spiritual world on earth, was a guardian of the fundamental values of rupenyu (life) and was largely responsible for the prosperity of his people (Bourdillon, 1976: 111). He was expected wherever and whenever it was necessary and through correct and expected channels, to consult, talk to, rebuke and command ancestors and even God to undertake their responsibilities (without offending them), which included guaranteeing their progeny peace, security and bumper harvests. A young, inexperienced and therefore foolish king would run out of ideas in times of calamity or even offend his ancestors and further condemn his subjects to eternal suffering. In some cases, calamities like drought were blamed on general incompetence and stupidity of a chief or king. It is plausible that although young people could be clever or more intelligent, they were in no way wiser than their elders (Mkanganwi in Chiwome and Gambahaya [eds], 1998: 13). Wisdom was accrued owing to the experiences that one had undergone and reflections that one had made in life. That is why a traditional Shona society prioritised definite procedures in the appointment of its community leaders. Presented this way, the institution of kingship/chieftainship proves quite noble contrary to the skirmishes and disorderliness that Zvarevashe presents as the norm in his early novel, Gonawapotera (1978) in which such a pattern and philosophy are neither considered nor alluded to.
Notwithstanding the good values identified above, the two writers also show that the same appointment of a king/chief at times had negative aspects in it. It was not always the case that all people agreed to someone’s appointment as a traditional leader. At times, there could be as many claimants to the throne as there were royal families, especially after a number of generations when the question of seniority becomes exceedingly confused (Bourdillon, 1976: 107). It was therefore not uncommon for claimants to fight their way to the throne. In Mutasa’s Nhume Yamambo (1990), Dyembeu himself had cheated his way to the leadership of the Rozvi Kingdom by hiring the Ndebele to murder Chirisamhuru’s father who by being the elderly of the two, was the rightful heir to the throne. Tavada, the author’s mouthpiece narrates that, ignoring laid down procedures, the power-hungry, cunning, asserting and recalcitrant Dyembeu had rigged his way to the throne by also giving the Mabweadziva contingent of Mavhudzi, Vhudzijena and the nyusas (male religious attendants) a lot of wealth to the dismay of the spiritual world. He thus became king through unorthodox means. Despite his father’s family being the rightful claimant to the Rozvi leadership, Chirisamhuru has to engage in a fierce and protracted war with Dyembeu to regain the kingship. He summons the help of other chiefdoms and clans as well as religious figures in order to defeat his greed opponent who had acclaimed himself king. He does not easily regain his father’s kingship. His way to the throne is not at all smooth and noble because it is catalysed by violence and deaths: “Pakachibuda kubayana, kuchekana kugurana nokuurayana kwaityisa” [p.197] (There erupted fierce stabbing, cutting and killing of each other).
These ugly scenes show that apart from identifying the good, the author also observes and acknowledges the existence of bad aspects that were also inherent in the same traditional succession system. It being a system that was orderly did not save it from reactionary forces. In observing the good and the bad, he is unlike early Shona writers who emphasised and depicted the bad only as if it was the norm. In Dzinza RavaGovera VaChirumhanzu naMutasa (1998), Zvarevashe also succinctly captures this fact where he shows the confusion that erupts after Pfete Mutasa and Mhepo’s deaths in Manicaland and Gutu respectively. After Pfete’s death, Juru succeeds him but only rules for a month before being murdered by Bvumbi, leaving Mudembererwa with the throne. The Jindwi people then murder the new leader after he has killed their relatives leaving the throne to his younger brother Matida. Bvumbi who had murdered Juru murders Matida again and assumes leadership before being killed by Tendai, Matida’s son, revenging the death of his father. In Gutu, Mutanga, the eldest and appointed leader rules for a very short time. Chitutu who is the second eldest equally claims legitimacy to the throne and usurps it from the elder brother. In the process, he kills Maokomavi and Mutizirapi his younger brothers whom he suspects of also nursing interests in the leadership of the Chirumhanzu dynasty. The situation then degenerates into anarchy as many aspirants crop up. The death of these elders begets more anarchy and arguments:
Kuzoti vakuru vapera vose kufa, ushe hwakatanga kunetsa. Shumba dzakatanga kuitirana nharo nokukakavadzana (Dzinza RavaGovera, 1998: 87).
Now, when all elders had died, chieftainship became problematic. The descendants of the Shumba clan started conflicting and quarrelling.
Descendants of Nherera claim the chieftainship belongs to Nherera arguing that the Mutanga and Chitutu families had had their chances for the throne. Other claimants see it otherwise. These incidents show that the noble institution of leadership and succession is sometimes too riddled with deplorable aspects. It is both a beautiful and ugly institution. With these presentations, one notes that the two writers give a holistic and more realistic picture of the political system of the Shona society as compared to early writers. In concurrence with the presentations made by the novelists, Bourdillon (1976: 107) states that succession to the chieftainship has always given rise to some debate, and many chiefdoms have traditions of feuds between branches of the chiefly families with rivals (even brothers) murdering each other.
It is also important to note that such chaotic situations, if ever they erupted, could not go unabated as was presented and made to be by Zvarevashe in Gonawapotera (1978) where war, murder and fighting are presented as the only solution to such crisis situations. To instil sanity, Shona religion always presented checks and balances. Among the Shona, it is the spiritual world that had the final say in the appointment of a king or chief. No one’s reign could prosper or last long if it did not have the blessing of the spiritual world (Gombe, 1986: 91). Being the general overseer and guidepost, Shona religion regulated and determined the fate of any leadership. It is this reality, which troubles Chirisamhuru after being urged by his relatives to reclaim his father’s kingship from Dyembeu. Fearing and hesitant that the spiritual world might not be on his side he says:
Asi upenyu hwangu nohumambo hwangu hungareba kusvika kupi kana Mabweadziva asinganditsigiri? (Nhume Yamambo, 1990: 27-8).
But how long will my life and reign be if I am not supported by the spiritual world?
Chirisamhuru knows well that any leadership that does not enjoy both the support and blessings of the spiritual world is very short-lived. It is the same spiritual world that also guarantees one of life without whose mercy one’s life is also cut short. It is clear that religion determines both life and politics. Ultimately, Chirisamhuru is persuaded to fight Dyembeu after noting that the spiritual world at Mabweadziva is behind his quest. It is the support of the Mabweadziva cult that spurs and gives Chirisamhuru and his fighters the hope and conviction that they are fighting a just war, which they are sure of winning. Just because he had unrightfully forced his way to the throne, Dyembeu’s reign is not only short and infamous, but also marred by unrest. On the other hand, with the help and blessings of the spiritual world, Chirisamhuru’s reign is largely peaceful, prosperous and lasts relatively longer.
The same is true in Zvarevashe’s Dzinza RavaGovera VaChirumhanzu NaMutasa (1998). In the midst of chaos among the Chirumhanzu political aspirants of Gutu soon after the death of Mhepo, religion comes in to play a crucial role in settling the succession dispute. Goreharipenyi, Mhepo’s spirit medium, Matihavo, Kaguve Chirongo’s medium together with Nyamubvambire’s medium in their trance all concur to pronounce and endorse Chidyamakono as the rightful heir to the throne:
Zvino varume vose vakazobva vabvuma kuti Chidyamakono, Nherera, ndiye akanga asarudzwa kuva Ishe Chirumhanzu. Izvi ndizvo zvaiitika pasichigare, nyika ichatongwa nokutungamirirwa navadzimu namasvikiro namakombwe. Nhasi kuzvitaurira chizvarwa chazvino dzenge ngano…Kare, kana svikiro rainge rataura hakuna aizvipikisa kana kuzviramba. Vaiti zvaitika, zvapera, svikiro ragura nyaya (p. 91-2).
Now, all men then agreed that Chidyamakono, Nherera, was duly elected as Chief Chirumhanzu. This is what the norm was in the past, when the spiritual world, spirit mediums and clan spirits ruled and governed life. Then, if a spirit medium had spoken, no one doubted or quarrelled. They believed all is done, the medium has said nothing but the truth.
It is clear that religion had a strong influence and impact in politics. It presided over the election of traditional leaders who were then viewed as representatives of the spiritual world on earth. This also explains why traditional leaders were not just respected, but feared and obeyed. It also explains why they took the initiative to summon people, organise religious festivals and even spoke to the spiritual world on behalf their community. The above are cases to demonstrate that Shona religion was always there to safeguard communal interests and not to champion selfish ends. The spiritual world, being the most powerful and being concerned about the social well being of its progeny, always provided ways of establishing and safeguarding order in society. Among the Shona it was hardly expected of anyone to argue against the spiritual world and disturb the peace it had established (Gelfand, 1973: 119).

Title page 
Key terms 
Chapter I 
1.1 Preamble
1.2 Aim of the study
1.3 Justification of the research
1.4 Observations
1.5 Methods of research
1.6 Literature review
1.7 Burning issues and their time
1.8 The Shona writer and his responsibility to society
1.9 Scope of research
1.10 Conclusion
Chapter II  Historical background to the socio-economic issues 35
2.0 Introduction
2.1 Background to decolonisation and cultural regeneration
2.2 Background to economic disempowerment and land reform
2.3 Background to women’s problems and their empowerment
2.4 Conclusion
Chapter III  Shona novelists and their treatment of socio-economic issues of the pre-colonial era 
3.0 Introduction
3.1 Election and installation of traditional leaders
3.2 Peace and peaceful coexistence
3.3 Depiction of Shona religion
3.4 The custom of killing triplets
3.5 Depiction of Shona marriage customs; kuzvarira (daughter-pledging) and kutema ugariri (mortgaging one’s labour to get a wife)
3.6. Contrasting images of women
3.7 Images of beer drinking
3.8 Myth about laziness countered
3.9 Let the past teach the present: lessons to draw from the Shona past
3.10 Conclusion
Chapter IV  Empowerment versus disempowerment in the new dispensation 
4.0 Introduction
4.1 Independence and black empowerment
4.2 Poverty among unempowered people
4.3 Perceptions on emancipation of African women
4.4 Disempowerment and empowerment against the HIV and AIDS pandemic
4.5 Conclusion
Chapter V Conclusion, findings and recommendations 
5.1 Conclusion and findings
5.2 Recommendations
Primary sources
Secondary sources
Theses, dissertations, seminar and conference papers
Journals, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets

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