Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

America to Zim: A Day at Dzivaguru, or, The Spirit and I

posted by Leila Z. on

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Today we went on an all-day field trip to a sacred shrine in Chiweshe called Dzivaguru. Home to many mediums for very ancient spirits, it acts as a sort of "referral hospital" for problems that cannot be solved by local traditional healers (n'anga). We were allowed to visit by special invitation of mbira player/teacher Patience Chaitezvi, whose mother was a spirit medium and who grew up at Dzivaguru. It was a real privilege to be allowed to go -- even most Zimbabweans are not allowed there.

Since it is a sacred place, there are many rules about dress and comportment while there. Here's a short, non-exhaustive list of the rules I can remember:

• Women must wear long skirts and loose-fitting, non-revealing tops. Men wear trousers that are then rolled up to just below the knee. Neither sex may wear red (since it reminds spirits of blood, and death), except as it occurs in special retso fabric, which is required by some spirits (including mbira spirits!).
• Women wear head wraps.
• No scented lotions, deodorants, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. is allowed.
• Nothing electronic or "modern" is allowed inside the shrine area -- cameras, watches, cell phones, etc. No money, either.
• No glasses.
• No metal, except for the metal on our mbiras/dezes (Patience also allowed me to take my metal mbira pick inside.) Inside the shrine people eat from and cook in clay pots, and make food with wooden utensils.
• No shoes allowed inside.
• No sex for 24 hours beforehand (there's a couple in our group; otherwise not an issue for us!)
• No women on their period (see blood, above).
• In traditional Zimbabwean society, it is a sign of respect not to look people in the eye... This is by far* the hardest rule to follow, since for Americans, looking someone in the eye conveys honesty, openness, and respect.
* My booty might answer differently after sitting on the ground all day...

The exterior of Dzivaguru; rules apply past the stone wall
The day started early, as we left Bushbaby at 5AM. Erica had rented a sweet mini-bus (like a hotel shuttle) for the 12 of us, which seems all the more luxurious since I know it would comfortably(?) fit 40 Zimbabweans. We dropped Tute Chigamba in Harare and picked up Patience. We headed out toward Chiweshe and passed through the zone where many embassies are located. I kid you not, the first five embassies I was were: Iran, Palestine, Algeria, Cuba, and China (I later also spotted Yugoslavia and the UK -- no sign of the US embassy, which is probably in a bunker somewhere...). Also peppered along Embassy Row were old campaign posters for Mugabe, with the slogan "Indigenize, empower, develop, employ".

The trip was uneventful, except that we were stopped several times by the police. Here they throw up "checkpoints" at random intervals, ostensibly checking that everything is up to code (which it never is) and really looking for bribes. Today, the driver was only forced to pay a bribe once (out of five), possibly because Erica or someone else would start playing mbira as we approached a checkpoint. Whether the intervention of the ancestors or the sheer novelty of a white person playing mbira, we were waved through after a short stop the other times.

A couple hour's journey brought us to the shops near Dzivaguru, where we bought rice, cooking oil, beef, and other essentials to take to the shrine. We also brought offerings that we (OK, really Erica, but we paid her back) had bought -- retso and other fabric and tobacco (chambwa) for making snuff (bute). The purpose of the offerings is to connect the giver to the shrine, so that you may always be included in their prayers. I'm a scientist and a Unitarian, but I guess I'll take that.

Tomorrow: part two -- drumming, dancing, and consulting the spirit...

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