O level Notes : FRS - Indigenous religion as a source of morals and values in shaping Zimbabwean identity

 Morality or morals is a word which can be defined as a set of social rules, principles, norms that guide or are intended to guide the conduct of people in a society, and beliefs about right and wrong conduct as well as good or bad character.

Values are defined as important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good  or bad and desirable or undesirable. Values have a major influence on a person’s behaviour and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.

 Moral values mean the ideals that are central to our sense of being a good  person. They are the worthy ideals or principles  that one follows to distinguish  the right from the wrong. These ideals or virtues are considered worthy in building up the character of an individual.

It is important for a child to have a sound base of strong moral values. The future of Zimbabwe  depends upon the moral values imparted on a child. The family is a key social engine as it transfers the values of a community to the next generation.

 Moral values refer to the good virtues such as honesty, integrity, truthfulness, compassion, helpfulness, love, respectfulness, hard work, justice, rights and responsibilities of both the individual and community. Morality entails the norms and values of any given society.

Values permeate every aspect of human life. They explain what is good or right and what is acceptable in society. Values occupy a central place in people’s culture particularly indigenous  people. The moral value of Zimbabwean  culture is what gives it uniqueness and identity. Zimbabwean  moral values hold people together and guarantee their continual existence.

In Zimbabwe, Indigenous religion is the source and foundation of morality. Moral values are entwined with culture which is greatly related to spiritual beliefs. Indigenous  religion teaches how to behave and act. It provides a framework within which people can learn the difference between right and wrong shaping the behaviour of a persson, In Indigenous religion, the following are some of the values cherished:

  • respect:
  • love
  • honesty
  • courtesy
  • cooperation
  • integrity
  • loyalty
  • chastity
  • hospitality
  • unity and solidarity
  • tolerance and perseverance

Through such values Indigenous  religion helps to shape an individual’s identity. Indigenous  religion even provides different ways of dealing with moral dilemmas. For example, on murder the guilty family has to pay a compensating  fine to avoid avenging  spirits.

 Sources of unhu and their impact on Zimbabwean identity

 In Indigenous religion institutions have risen as sources of morals and values as well as safeguarding the life of an individual and the community in which he or she lives. These are:

 (a) Marriage

 Marriage is considered as the most sacred institution in any society. It is a pillar on which every society gain support. Certain values need to be adhered to and practised so as to have a successful relationship. Such values include  honesty, equality, commitment, respect, understanding, discipline  and faithfulness. Sharing such moral values is a framework of a healthy marriage which is acceptable in society. Zimbabwean identity is marked by honest, complementarity, equality, respect and faithfulness which are attributes of unhu or ubuntu derived from marriage. For example, marriage teaches the men and women in marriage to be responsible by providing for the family. Most women work mainly during the rainy season in agricultural production while their male counterparts work in towns and abroad to fend for the family. So, marriage is a source of morals and values which shapes Zimbabwean  identity.

 (b) Family

 The first social relationships are formed in a family. It is the family that shapes a person for it is the foundation  of a society. Traditional  values of hospitality  and  social  cohesion  are manifested  in the collective efforts of the family. Children are taught values, ethics, trained on what is right and wrong and how to interact with people. The family shapes Zimbabwean  identity through morals and values instilled into Zimbabwean  citizens. The young  people who have a true mark of Zimbabwean  identity respect elders and  every elder is treated as a parent. This comes  from the family which  socialises children that all elders are parents and deserve respect.

(c) Community

 The community is the guardian of the individual. Indigenous religion stresses community life and communalism   as  a  living  principle  of  which  the  fundamental  ideology   is  community   identity.  The community  shapes the behaviour of a person. Good behaviour reflects that the person is coming  from a good  society. Zimbabwean  identity is marked by communalism, a person belongs  to the community. There is no individualism among indigenous  people in Zimbabwe. No one is treated as the other because of communalism.

 People are identified as one at family, community  and national level. This is the reason why when one commits a crime is regarded as dangerous to the whole community. Furthermore, because of communalism Zimbabweans  have an identity of helping one another in times of happiness and distress. Social gatherings like weddings, funerals and family rituals show the identity of Zimbabweans  as one. People unite for one common purpose which makes tasks in the community to be accomplished easily.

(d) Chieftainship

Chieftainship is at the core of our being as an African society. This is so because chiefs play an important role in defining and keeping the people together. They are stewards of the morals and values in Indigenous religion. In other words, they give an identity to a society they are representing. Chiefs are vanguards  of cultural values. They have a duty to protect and uphold the country’s cultural values. When moral values are not upheld, chiefs intervene to redress the situation either through punishment or paying a fine. Their duty is to curb moral decadence in the society.

Chiefs are religious practitioners in Indigenous  religion and they are reservoirs of morals and values that shape  Zimbabwean  identity. For example, Zimbabweans  are identified  with good  sexual conduct  and chiefs as sources of morals and values who punish people who commit sexual offences like bestiality, incest and adultery which are all regarded as taboos in Zimbabwean  society. It is because of this reason that chieftainship are a source of morals and values. Chiefs should be the yardstick of morality in the community and morality is what identifies Zimbabweans.

Unhu or Ubuntu in Indigenous religion

Unhu is a way of life which is linked to religion. It embodies all virtues that maintain harmony and the spirit of sharing among members of society. Indigenous  religion beliefs show that an individual’s actions today are a reflection on the past and will have far reaching consequences for the future. One qualifies to be an ancestor if he has lived a respectable life on earth. Only those who die having upheld the concept of ubuntu will join the ancestral world. What an individual does affects the whole family. If one commits murder, the spirit of the murdered victim will return and haunt the clan of the murderer. So, to safe guard the future generation not to have miserable lives it is important for a person to always think of others before one act. Those who uphold  the principle of ubuntu throughout  their lives will in death achieve unity with those living. Ubuntu has to be displayed at all times in all circumstances and the idea of ethics.

In Zimbabwe, ubuntu maintains peace and harmony in a nation. People know what is good and evil, right and wrong. A violation of morals and values is an offense against all these individuals. Moral and values helps to keep society alive and in harmony with unhu or ubuntu. Unhu is the essence of the African moral system and it’s a concept which focuses on the character-based ethics. In Indigenous religion, one has to adhere to values and principles in indigenous society. Some of the aspects of Unhu emphasised in Indigenous religion are:

1. Universal human brotherhood (or unity)

The African man is first and foremost a member of his family, the extended family, the community and his

society in that order before being an individual. The African man has a social and communal nature which is based on unity. The African culture can complement the Western culture by integrating individualism with the communal nature of life.

2. Hospitality


At all times, there is always unprompted welcome and accommodation  to unfamiliar persons and visitors. Africans effortlessly welcome strangers and offer them where to sleep as well as giving them food.

3. Compassion


An African is supposed to exhibit compassion to the others. This is the reason why there is either extended family system or individualism.

4. Generosity


Unhu entails that one should express sheer generosity to the needy in society. It is because of the attribute of unhu that helps in inculcating the belief that we are all human.


5. Fairness

It is a negation of unhu to take sides when dealing with others. Fairness involve impartial and just treatment of others. Unhu entails that there should be impartiality and equal treatment of others. Every member of society is important and favouritism should be avoided as it is against the spirit of unhu.



Unhu means that one has to be just in executing judgements. Every person with unhu upholds the spirit of justice. Oppression of the others and social injustice is against the spirit of unhu or ubuntu.


7. Truth


Lying is against the spirit of unhu or ubuntu. Truth helps in solving problems of the family, society and nation at large. It is an important attribute of unhu necessary for peace and stability of the society.


8. Respect


Unhu or ubuntu is exhibited by regarding others with high esteem. Respect involves honouring someone by showing care, concern and consideration of their feelings and needs.  It is because of this reason that elders should be respected at all times. For example, the young should show respect and avoid insulting elders and make them feel comfortable especially when they are travelling in a bus. The young should make way for the elders to sit first.


9. Integrity


Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. A person is said to have unhu or ubuntu when he or she is honest and has good moral principles and values. It is an attribute of unhu which reduces promiscuity, corruption and greediness in society.