Chaminuka

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Chaminuka is an ancestor of the Shona people, who include VaZezuru, VaKaranga, VaManyika, VaNdau, VaKorekore, BaNambiya, BaVenda, and BaKalanga. These are dialect groups of the Shona as a family. Chaminuka's stature as a religious figure is best understood in relation to his place in the Shona lineage as a family and the role that he played as a founder of Zimbabwe. The original Chaminuka belongs to the lineage of Tovera, the earliest known ancestor of the Shona according to their history. Tovera's son, Mambiri, is the father of Murenga Sororenzou, the founder-architect of Zimbabwe. Murenga's children include Chaminuka, Nehanda, and Mushavatu. Mushavatu's descendants are the preferred mediums of Chaminuka.
The original home of the Shona before they came to Zimbabwe was Tanganyika (Tanzania), which means Origin of the World in Shona. The Shona migrated from Tanganyika to southern Africa as a family. They maintained their family structure as a model for their political and religious systems. That is why it has proved difficult to penetrate or divide them to set one group against the other.
God is the head of the Shona family and their political and religious systems. The ancestors are the guardian spirits, followed by the Mutapa as the ruler of the nation. The first Shona settlement in southern Africa was at Mapungubwe near the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi Rivers. A town south of Mapungubwe is named Thovela after the Shona ancestor Tovera. Another is named Thoho ya Ndou after Murenga Sororenzou. The Shona later moved to Zimbabwe and built their capital at Wedza in Marondera.
Chaminuka's son, Kutamadzoka, became Mutapa I. After his death, Chigwangu, his brother, became Mutapa II and moved the capital to Great Zimbabwe, where he became known as Rusvingo, which means Builder of Stone Walls. After the deaths of Murenga, Chaminuka, and Nehanda, the Shona continued to revere them as their ancestors and founders of the nation. Their spirits are invoked together especially in times of wide-scale wars and struggles.
Murenga's spirit operates as a voice from the caves of Njelele in Matopo. This is where the First Chimurenga started. It was organized in his name. All wars of the land in Zimbabwe are Wars of Murenga. They are called Chimurenga. The organizing spirits behind them are Chaminuka and Nehanda. Both operate through mediums. The first medium of Nehanda was Nyamhita, but the best known was Charwe, who guided the First Chimurenga and was executed by the British in 1897.
The first medium of Chaminuka was Kachinda, but the most famous was Pasipamire. His fame was associated with miracles and as a great prophet, healer, and rainmaker. His powers were especially manifest during the conflict with Lobengula, at the time when Europeans were invading southern Africa from Natal, forcing Africans to migrate northward and come into conflict with one another. Lobengula had tried several times to attack the Shona and take away their land. But Pasipamire would take the message of peace to him from the ancestors suggesting harmony and coexistence with the Ndebele. Lobengula would not listen.
He hatched a plan to invite the prophet to Bulawayo and kill him on the way. The prophet knew of the plan ahead of time, but was ready to obey the ancestors and face his fate. He took his wife, Bavheya, their sons, Bute and Kwari, and a few soldiers with him. Lobengula's soldiers were waiting for him in ambush near the Shangani River. Bavheya begged her husband to run away, but he was resolute to face his fate. Ndebele soldiers fell on the little party that the prophet came with and killed many of them. Kwari was wounded in the leg, but managed to escape. Bute had already sneaked away to tell the Shona to prepare for war. Bavheya was left untouched.
The assailants struck at the prophet's body with spears, but the spears caused no harm. They fired at him with guns, but the bullets had no effect. When Lobengula's soldiers were exhausted, Chaminuka's prophet addressed them, saying they would not be able to kill him. For he had come in peace, not war, and was innocent. Only a young boy would be able to kill him because he would be innocent and not responsible for his actions. Soon a young boy was brought, and he struck the blow that killed the prophet instantly. Lobengula's soldiers cut open the prophet's body and took out his heart and liver as charms.
They proceeded to Chitungwiza to wipe out the entire village. The village was deserted. The people had gone to hide in ambush, ready for war. Lobengula's soldiers were surprised and repulsed. In his last words, Chaminuka's prophet had said they would never rule his land. A race of people would come from across the seas and defeat them and rule for a while. The rightful owners of the land would rise up and fight to take back their land.
Chaminuka's prophesy has since come true. Europeans came and defeated Lobengula. The children of Zimbabwe took up arms and got back their land. All these wars were fought in the name of Murenga as the founder of Zimbabwe and guardian of the land. They were organized and led by the twin spirits of Chaminuka and Nehanda. Chaminuka's role in all this is phenomenal. He is ancestor of the Shona and founder of Zimbabwe, together with Murenga and Nehanda. He is father of the first two rulers of Zimbabwe and has played a significant role through his prophet Pasipamire as a messenger of the humanistic values of peace, harmony, and coexistence that unite Africans in Zimbabwe today as a people and a nation.

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Further Reading

  • Bourdillon, M. (1998). The Shona Peoples: Ethnography on the Contemporary Shona, With Special Reference to Their Religion. Gweru: Mambo Press.
  • Huffman, T. N. (2005). Mapungubwe: Ancient African Civilization on the Limpopo. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
  • Mukanya, S. (2003). Dynamics of History. Harare: College Press.
  • Mutswairo, S. (1994). Chaminuka: Prophet of Zimbabwe. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Nyathi, P. (2005). Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage. Bulawayo: ama Books.