O level Notes : FRS - Indigenous religion - Religious Practitioners

A religious practitioner is a person who is trained to take a religious office or a person who has a mandate to officiate at certain religious activities. Religious practitioners are important religious figures in the indigenous communities.




A religious practitioner is a person who is trained to take a religious office or a person who has a mandate to officiate at certain religious activities. Religious practitioners are important religious figures in the indigenous communities. There are different religious practitioners and they perform different duties according to their religious offices. The practitioners ensure that the religious practices continue in the different indigenous communities. These include; traditional healers, priests, rain messengers and spirit mediums among others.


(a) Rain  messengers (manyusa/amawosana)


These are important practitioners who officiate at rain asking ceremonies in indigenous  communities. The manyusa or amawosana are responsible  for rain, they are the ones who ask for rain from the ancestors through  priestly intermediaries. Rain messengers are sent by chiefs to various shrines for instance, most rain makers were sent to Njelele shrine to ask for rain. The main task of the manyusa is to lead the rain asking ceremony together with women who have reached menopause. These women are involved in seed fermentation which symbolises the creation of mankind. They also have the ability to stop destructive rain. The manyusa or amawosana state various morals and problems which will be affecting the chiefdom. They sacrifice on behalf of people and make offerings to appease ancestors if the people have wronged ancestors so that rain can come. They are involved in the rain-asking rituals performing various dances to appease the ancestors.


Various rain messengers  include: Mbuya Mavhu who presided over this ritual in Buhera and Mt Darwin. Mkwati is also believed to have been a rain messenger based at Njelele.

(b) Traditional healer


A traditional  healer is a vital  medical  practitioner in the indigenous  communities. Traditional healers are responsible for healing and divination in various communities. In contemporary  Zimbabwe, there is Zimbabwe  National Traditional Healers’ Association (ZINATHA) which is an association of the traditional healers. Traditional  healers are normally  consulted when problems arise. The problems include: misfortunes,  mental  illness,  measles  ,deaths, sickness and barrenness among  other problems. A traditional healer is also consulted at various rituals such as birth, marriage and death.

As diviners, they get religious advice and spiritual guidance  to assist people. They make use of divination dices (hakata or amathambo) to know about the issues which need to be addressed. The divination dices reveal the problems and their causes. Divination can also come through ordeals, omens and dreams.As a healer, a traditional healer deals with medicine and offers various prescriptions. The healer uses various methods of healing to effect cure to various diseases which will be affecting people. They also use herbs to cure diseases, these herbs include chifumuro, gavakava (aloe), mubvamaropa and chifuro-furo. The traditional healers are also consulted on some rituals such as birth and death rites.

Some roles of the traditional healers include:

  • being involved in community rituals such as rain-making.
  • to encounter national diseases and catastrophes such as plagues.
  • heals people of the land.
  • provides spiritual and physical healing.


(c) Spirit medium (Svikiro)


A spirit medium  is a person (male or female) who is possessed  by  the  spirit  of the  dead. The  spirit medium is there to mediate between the dead members and the living members of the community. A spirit medium  communicates  the message  from the ancestors to the living descendants of a family or community  at large. When possessed the medium acts in strange ways which he or she cannot do if he is not possessed. During  that time, the medium communicates with the spirit.


(d) Priest

A priest is an important figure who officiates at various religious ceremonies which are conducted  in the community. Priests are owners of shrines in different communities, most communities have shrines which commemorate the ancestors of the community. This makes priests very important figures in the religious circles in indigenous  communities. Priests communicate with the ancestors and they pass everything they hear to the community.

Priests have various religious roles which include:

  • offering sacrifices.
  • advisers, experts and judges in traditional rituals and rules.
  • they intercede for human beings before the Supreme Being, spirits and ancestors.
  • they pour libation and thanksgiving to the Supreme Being.
  • priests install kings and chiefs symbolising the Supreme Being’s presence among the African society.
  • they drive away witches, appease spirits, reverse curses and protect people from danger and harm.


(e) Mid-wife


Mid-wives assist in the birth of children in the indigenous  communities. Their duties include assisting the pregnant mother to have safe delivery, making incantations to ancestors in the event that giving  birth was now becoming  difficult. They also encourage  confession  of sexual offences particularly in the event of difficulties in delivery. Midwives ensure that the child being born is safe and they inform the elders about strange birth. In the contemporary  days, the roles of the mid-wives  have been substituted by nurses in various hospitals across the country. However, in some conservative areas mid-wives are still doing  their duties just like in the old days.


(e) Chief


A chief is a representative of ancestral spirits and he is regarded as the figurehead and a leader of a particular area. A chief is considered as a custodian of the indigenous  culture in various communities. The chief has several important roles which he plays in  the  life  of  the  indigenous   people.  Their  roles in  Indigenous   religion  involve  safeguarding   holy days  (chisi or amalanga okuzila), distributing  land, communicating with ancestors on behalf of the people, carry out instructions given by the ancestors, solving  social problems like divorce and defending the territory from invaders.



A sacred place is an area which is set apart from the ordinary world. A sacred place refers to a place that is dedicated to some religious purpose and has been made holy by association with a god or other objects of worship. In Indigenous  religion, there are various sacred places which are supposed  to be respected. These sacred places can either be natural or man-made. There are various taboos which are associated with different sacred places in the indigenous communities in Zimbabwe.


(a) Shrine


There are family and community shrines which are supposed to be used by people in a community when conducting  rituals or sacrifices. Family shrines are made and used at family level. They can be a small hut or place in the homestead. Family shrines are used for making offerings, sacrifices and rituals at family levels. People make sacrifices at the shrines and leave some symbolic offerings of food and drinks such as beer at the shrine.

Community  shrines are those shrines which  have been  set aside for religious  purposes  by  the whole community. These shrines can be built under sacred trees such as Muhacha or Muchakata or they can be built near or in some sacred places such as caves and mountains. For instance, Njelele shrine at Matopo is where rain asking ceremonies in indigenous  communities were conducted. People offer various sacrifices, rituals and offerings at these places. People are therefore supposed  to respect these places as they are important for communication  with the ancestors. Failure to respect these places can  lead to punishment by the ancestors.


(b) Graveyard


A graveyard is an area which is set aside for graves. Graveyards  are  also  considered  as  sacred  places in  the  indigenous  communities. The  graveyard  is considered  as a resting  place  for the ancestors of the  community.  Therefore,  people  are  supposed to respect it and not disturb the ancestors from resting. People  must  not  act as they  wish  in  this area,  various  activities  such  as farming  for either commercial  and family consumption  is prohibited in the graveyard. Herding the cattle in the graveyard is also prohibited. In indigenous communities, there

are both family and communal graveyards. The value oFfigth. 2e.s9eAggrraavveesyiasrcdonsidered as the same.


(c) Mountains


Mountains are domains of the spirits in Indigenous religion. Indigenous people believe that some mountains are residence of the spirits. As such, there are several taboos associated with these sacred mountains in Indigenous  religion. These taboos  include  avoiding  making  comments  about  fruits, having  sex in that mountain as well as cutting down trees and extracting minerals from the mountain. If people misbehave in the sacred mountains,  various misfortunes may befall upon them for instance,  one can disappear in the mountain. There are various sacred mountains  across the Zimbabwean  communities  which include Chemanyoka Mountain which is 20 km from Masvingo, Nyangani Mountain, Ngomakurira, Domboramwari and Buchwa Mountain.

Importance of sacred mountains


  • Venue for cleansing ceremonies which are held in mountains.
  • They are a habitat for wildlife including sacred animals.

  • They are a source of life and where people communicate with the spirits.
  • Mountains play a significant role in informing the community that the spirits need to be appeased.

Certain signs such as the mountain burning by itself meant that it was time to prepare for the next

cropping season.

  • During the liberation struggle sacred mountains sheltered the freedom fighters.
  • They are venues for rain asking ceremonies, for example Matobo hills in Matabeleland South.
  • Nharira hills is also a burial ground for the members of the Nyamweda clan.


(d) Caves


Caves are also considered  as sacred in indigenous communities andare supposedto be respectedby all people in the community. Caves are also considered as  the  resting  place  for the  ancestors  and  some spirits of different clans. Sacred caves in indigenous communities include Chinhoyi caves and Matonjeni caves at Matopo hills. Caves are important for various reasons in the local communities. These include being  used as burial places for chiefs, carrying out various  rituals  and  hideout  in  times  of  trouble. For instance, during the Second Chimurenga in Zimbabwe, the fighters of the war used to hide in the caves when the battle was intense.


(e) Forests

Sacred forests in various indigenous  communities  are also considered  as the residence of the ancestral spirits. These sacred forests include Nemuredzo forest in Bikita and Chiroro forest along Gutu-Chiredzi high way. People are encouraged to respect these sacred forests to avoid misfortune to befall upon them or the community. There are various taboos which are associated with these sacred forests. These include cutting down trees, defacating  in the forest, engaging in sexual activities and passing  bad comments regarding certain things which are seen in the forest.


Importance of sacred forests


  • Nature is conserved in forests. The forests are saved from defilement and deforestation by certain binding taboos.
  • War fighters used such forests as hideouts while they planned the war against Rhodesian forces.
  • Some rituals are undertaken  in sacred forests for example  rain asking  ceremonies.  Such  forests

include Ndambakurimwa sacred forest in Domboshava.

  • They are dwelling places of ancestral spirits.
  • Provided food for animals since several things occurred that discouraged  people from harvesting

wild fruits during their season.


(f) Water bodies


There are certain water bodies  which  are considered  as sacred in various indigenous  communities  in Zimbabwe. These include lakes, rivers, waterfalls and pools among other water bodies. Among the Venda people, they link all the water bodies to the Divine Being who is the provider. The Tonga people also regard Zambezi river as a sacred river which is the home of a river god known as Nyami-Nyami. It is also believed that, some water bodies are also the residence of the water spirits called mermaids (njuzu).

For the Xangani, Mashawi is a sacred spring which is found in Makanani in Chikombedzi. This spring never dries up and is regarded as home to mermaids. There are taboos associated with this sacred spring like prohibition of bathing and washing. To add on, Nyavasikana pool or dam in Chikombedzi  is also a sacred water body for the Xangani people.  The pool is associated with marine spirits as voices of people are heard and also many people who have tried to profane the pool have disappeared.


Some rivers provide the national spirits (mhondoro) resting  places  and  a  source  for  life  in  the  spirit world. For instance, Save river is a sacred river which provide the national spirits with water to drink. This is portrayed in a Shona song which says, “Dzinonwa muna Save mhondoro” (national  spirits drink  from Save).


There are some  pools  that are considered  sacred in Indigenous  religion, these include; Mana pools, Nyanyadzi hot spring and Chirorodziva found in Chinhoyi  caves.  These  pools  are  said  to  provide some   healing   waters   for  various   diseases   and they are associated  with taboos  like avoidance  of washing clay pots with charcoal and use of modern detergents. People in various communities are therefore supposed  to respect these various water

bodies. Failure to respect these water bodies  may lead to various misfortunes. The misfortunes include; being taken by the mermaid, drying up of the water bodies or drought.


(g) Traditional kitchen


The traditional kitchen hut is considered sacred among  the indigenous  people  especially  the chikuva or emsamo area.   Even in Ndebele a hut is a sacred place as it acts as place for connecting  the living with their ancestors. When one dies, the body of the deceased  is placed  in the traditional Shona hut particularly  at the chikuva or emsamo so that there is the link between the dead person and his or her ancestors. The chikuva or emsamo constitutes the most sacred part of the hut. Chikuva or emsamo acts as a religious sanctuary for people.  The raised position   of  chikuva  or  emsamo  symbolises   the dignity of ancestral spirits.