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.
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.
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.
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.
SACRED PLACES IN INDIGENOUS RELIGION
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.