The energy of objects illustrated in Shona Rituals

Art & Design | By Masimba Hwati, Fine Artist | 21 May 2013

Shona culture just like most cultures is characterised by several myths, legends and rituals that have always been a part of the people’s life style. In the Shona cycle of life every stage is marked by a ritual. In some of these rituals the energy of objects is clearly illustrated. We will explore some of these rituals in detail.

1) Kugoverwa kwenhumbi /Matata
This is the first ritual performed after a person’s death and burial. On the day the whole clan is assembled at the deceased’s house. A part of the deceased clothes and small portable property is gathered to be distributed to the close circle of relatives and sometimes friends are included in this circle.

The objects distributed at this ritual become sacred and of great value, there are specially considered by the recipients and treated with great reverence. At this ritual the objects distributed seem to loose the mundane and aesthetic value and they assume a certain kind of sacred energy specially connected with the past life of the deceased. These objects are believed to carry an imparted energy closely associated with the deceased. They are considered as testimonials and tokens in the life of the deceased. They become embodied fragments that carry history and memories. From this understand one can discover how profound the material culture of a people can get.

The clothes and objects received at this ritual have the following newfound attributes
a) They cannot be sold or be part of a transaction. Giving them a commercial value or trading can bring misfortune
b) They cannot be worn by anyone else apart from the one who received them
c) They cannot be repaired or sewn when torn; they have to be treated with a new kind of respect and must be allowed to disintegrate without human intervention.
d) They cannot be discarded or disposed of until they reach their final stage of disintergration. Their disposal is special they can’t be disposed of like ordinary rubbish they are supposed to be buried in the earth.

The Shona belief all over is that these items are an extension of the life lived by the deceased during his time their energy is based on this belief.
The Ancient Egyptians believed in the “ka” the life force of an individual being. This force could inhabit burial sculptures after one’s death. The same way the shona believe that the same life force inhabits the deceased’s property and items associated with him in the life time.

In this society every object is a link or an icon to a greater sense of invisible energy. The Philosophy of life in Zimbabwe affirms that energy, spiritual power, prowess, virtue, royalty could be inerrant in certain objects and places that are in proximity with offices and people of authority and power.

This intrinsic energy can be attained by rightfully inheriting these objects of power e.g. Pfumo raChaminuka, chipendani chaNehoreka.

Kugarwa Nhaka
This is an inheritance ritual performed a year later after the death of a husband and father who leaves behind a growing family. On the day the close circle of male relatives of the deceased are assembled in one place and one of them is chosen to take over his deceased brothers’ estate as husband and father.

The Responsibilities of this newfound father involves everything from providing for, protecting and shouldering whatever responsibilities that his brother left. This new man is also expected to raise his brother’s family and continue building a name for his brother; this may mean that his newfound office will be accompanied by conjugal rights and privileges towards his brother’s wife. This aspect of the ritual latter came under scrutiny and was amended in light of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The Process of the ritual
The brothers of the deceased’s relative and close family members gather at the deceased’s home.

The widow of the deceased is given the opportunity to choose who she wants to become her new husband. She does this by walking around on her knees around her prospective husbands she will carry in her hands a small dish of water and the objects that symbolise manhood namely

A) Gano-small axe
b) Pfumo-small spear
b) Tsvimbo- knobkerrie

These are the symbolise manhood in shone culture most traditional shone men keep these objects hidden in their bedrooms they are not for public exhibition they can only be used on rituals like these, or in  defense of the family in case of an attack at home.

When the widow reaches the person whom she wants to become her new husband she gives him the dish to wash his hands as acknowledgement and hands over to him the objects of manhood. These objects have a patriarchal and symbolic energy that is synonymous with manhood. Below are the symbolic meanings of each object.

a) Gano-traditionally used in close combat symbolises the man’s role in close protection of his family.
b) Pfumo-a hunting instrument also used for warfare symbolic of the man’s role as a breadwinner and a hunter for the family.
c) Tsvimbo-A scepter of authority symbol of patriarchy and honour associated with the institution of manhood.

These combination objects carry on them a patriarchal and imparted energy closely associated with manhood.

Follow the rest of the article below
- A Thousand Icons on a cultural desktop
- Innate, Implied and Imparted Energy
- The energy of objects illustrated in Shona Rituals
- Zimbabwe in Cultural Transition