By the rev Dr Levee Kadenge
Zimbabwe is endowed with traditions that have stood the test of time. These are culture and religion. The two are very tricky to separate. Where one is, the other is. Unfortunately, when Europeans came they made it their prime task to get rid of these two pillars of the African communities.
Before the coming of the whites, this land was controlled by chiefs and paramount chiefs who had jurisdiction over large pieces of land guided by Munhumutapa and Lobengula in the south. The latter had just come in from South Africa and settled in what is now called Matabeleland.
Whites came in when there were two major tribes: the Mashonas who spoke Shona and Ndebeles who spoke IsiNdebele. Within the boundaries were other minority tribes that comprised among them, the Kalanga, Sotho, Venda, Tonga, Vapfumbi, maTshangana and Shangwe in designated parts of the country.
The Shona were divided into five groups, Korekore, Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika and Ndau. Among these various groups would be variations of both cultural and religious practices. At the end of the 17th century whites started coming in, adding another dimension into the mosaic religious and cultural differences that already existed.
Instead of whites accommodating what they found obtaining in the form of traditions which were expressed both through cultural and religious practices, they embarked on direct confrontation against the two. Their aim was to completely change all that they came across by introducing the church and the school. This is the time colonialists and missionaries established their basis in order to control and subdue the people and the land and everything the people owned and practised.
All these people inhabiting the land had complete systems that ran their affairs as regards both culture and religion. The forest was both the chemist and supermarket of all time. Whatever man wanted he got from the forest in abundance; fresh and natural.
Traditional food was and is still the best legacy given to us by our forefathers. Today any doctor who does not recommend traditional foodstuffs has to interrogate his/her conscience. Thank God there is still a lot of it for us to take and restore our health. Ignoring our food is just as good as committing suicide.
These people did not lack anything in terms of their everyday lives. They had an elaborate health system that dealt with all ailments to the extent that there were experts who specialised in different diseases that affected society. They also had an intact cultural life that was satisfying to them. Their religion gave them the latitude to exercise their faculties which led them to enjoy life on a daily basis. Dance and song made life make sense.
Traditional religion was their way of life. It affected all facets of their lives. Food was the best ever. It was both nutritious and medicinal. One did not need a chemist. Indeed, health provision was a total package. They say you are what you eat and you eat what you are.
Midwives were in abundance and carried their duties with expert hands. Medicine men and women had the best herbs for all the ailments that affected people. This was real, we are not just romanticising.
Surgeries, both caesarean and other complicated injuries were conducted using sharp iron knives that were made from iron ore that had long been mined in Hwedza mountains.
Experts/mhizha were all over villages and these processed iron ore into steel which eventually was sold to traders for use in various tasks as cutting tools. Goat skins would be used to blow furnaces that burnt iron and turned it into steel with ease. Those gifted with such talents would spend days on end blowing these furnaces to produce as much steel as possible, some of which was exported. Barter trade was the game in the nation.
Legend has it that even brain surgeries were conducted in the villages with great success rates. It is believed that the biblical King Solomon came for the iron ore from these mountains.
Those who specialised in treating particular diseases would be the most sought after in the length and breath of the land. Mental cases were dealt with successfully. In essence, no health complaint was left unattended. There were specialists who dealt with such cases.
On the cultural aspect, it should be noted that education began in the home and knowledge impartation was systematically done by all those who had roles in bringing up the young ones.
Homesteads/villages became the education centres which were then assisted by the expanded community which supervised the norms and values of different communities. Each community was expected to produce people who would fit into the society and be acknowledged as worthy by surrounding villages. The family was the centre. Families were either monogamous or polygamous. The latter came into being when a man could afford to marry as many wives as he could.
Marriage was at the centre of African life. Tokens were given to parents of wives as ways of cementing marriages. A hoe was enough to give to one’s in-laws as lobola.
Cattle also could exchange hands as lobola. These were family affairs. No individual would marry his/her daughters without the involvement of the extended family. The whole family came together with representatives of the one who would be coming to marry congregating for the purpose of executing the marriage. As it took the whole village to raise a child, it also took a village to marry a couple.
An elaborate system of relationships was at the centre of African lives. To this effect, everyone is related to everyone through societal links; be they marriages, friendships and collaborations even in war. Alliances were common when a particular group would help the other in times of need, for example when fending off an enemy. Cross tribal marriages were arranged to bring harmony among different groups.
The church and the school became the ideological tools while the colonialist represented the repressive power which did not hesitate even to use the gun to force people to comply. The fact that Christianity and colonialism came at the same time, is something which will continue to occupy us as we study the effects of these two institutions. One wonders what would have happened if these two institutions came at different times?
When confronted with these two arms of western power, African culture and religions took a back seat. They had to retreat for survival
The best the colonial governments and the churches did was to preserve local languages, vehicles of cultural and religious values. Let those with ears hear.
Levee Kadenge is a theologian based at United Theological College. He can be contacted on email@example.com