Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

Weighing in on everything from avocados to Zimbabwe

America to Zim: The Spirit and I, part 2

posted by Leila Z. on

No comments

(When I left off yesterday, we had just arrived at Dzivaguru, home to ancient spirit mediums...)

When we stepped off the bus, the first person to meet us was a silent but perfectly friend man in navy scrubs who shook everyone's hand in turn. It took me a few beats to notice the chain and padlock that looped around his two ankles and one wrist. I had a visceral reaction to the sight of a black man in chains, but Erica quietly explained to me that sometimes psychotic people are brought to live at Dzivaguru short-term while being treated, and the chains are for their protection.

After the food and the offerings we had brought were taken in, we were allowed to enter the shrine. We stopped at the entrance, women kneeling on one side and men squatting on the other. The men clapped seven times and the women ululated; this was repeated three times. After the third time, we heard responding ululation from inside; this was a welcome and our signal to enter.

The shrine area is really beautiful; it's at the base of an enormous granite mountain with granite out toppings everywhere in the village. It's so peaceful there, very quiet and amazing to think that things were essentially the same there 100, or 200, years ago. We walked past the granite outcroppings to a (open-air) ceremonial hut made of poles with a thatched roof. We entered and sat on the stone floor (women and men on opposite sides) with our mbiras. We greeted individually the many spirit mediums who came in, who were draped in long fabrics and wore beads to show that they had a spirit.

Then we played mbira for them -- Nhema musasa and Shumba and Kariga Mombe and Taireva. We were a bit limited in that we were on different sides of the room, so it was hard to hear one another, but people clapped and eventually someone brought hosho, so it was all right. I think our playing was well-received, as evidenced by the ululations and a few people dancing.

The thing that was most difficult for me was sitting on the hard stone floor. Decorum demands that women sit with legs straight out in front; tradition also required us not to lean against the wooden poles. As an exercise (and I do mean EXERCISE), I challenge anyone reading this to sit on a concrete floor with legs outstretched. Not so bad? See how long you can do that before the nerve in your lower back starts to scream, before your feet go numb, or before your hamstrings ache. After a couple of hours, I was dying to get up and move around (but couldn't). For me, when we were not playing, I tried to pass some of the pressure to my arms by pushing them against the ground. Today my arms, hammys, and especially the very tops of my thighs are incredibly sore... Will the "Zimbabwean burn" become the next workout craze? ;)

Finally we went back outside the shrine for a bathroom break and snacks. Then we filed back in, ate some food they had prepared for us (from the clay bowls, no utensils), and then went to the area for drumming and dancing.

There was a big group of people assembled in a ring, men on one side, women on the other. The drummers (all men) sat on a log; usually one or two men or women would dance into the circle and show off some traditional dancing, then back out. Some people carried ceremonial objects like an axe; one man who I think had a python spirit carried a staff with a snake carved into it. The dancers were dressed in black and white (except for a few spirits of njuzu or others requiring color). The dancing was really fantastic, and I'm so sorry it was inside the shrine since it meant we couldn't take pictures. I'm told Erica has made a DVD (made outside the shrine) of them dancing and drumming that she sells on MBIRA.org, which I may need to check out.

Some of the adult dancers and spirit mediums
Later there was more dancing, first from the foreigners (actually, maybe a good thing about the no cameras!), then from the teenagers, and finally from the littlest kids. I was amazed by how early they have acquired that loose-limbed grace I associate with African dance! But I suppose it's inevitable growing up with rhythm all around. There was one particularly impressive two-year-old who did virtually all the basic dance moves the adults did, and would use every part of her body. She was amazing! (Also amazing, a bit later I saw her having her mother tie a baby on her back to carry around -- impressive!!)

One of the younger dancers (and a son of the head medium), holding a ceremonial axe
We then got to play mbira again for the assembled crowd (our women got to be honorary men for the purposes of playing, crossing over to sit on reed mats in front of the drumming log). We played a long version of Nhema musasa to lots of drumming, dancing, hosho playing, and ululating. (Probably about 100 people there? Though only the 10-15 spirit mediums were dancing).

Then it was time to go talk to the spirit medium. I said my goodbyes, clapping and even curtsying, and walked off with my deze on my head, which I could tell the people were pleased by. We went over to the area for consultation with the oldest spirit. There were two logs, one for women and one for men. We played mbira for the spirit until a translator arrived (Patience had to leave early to return to Chinhoyi).

We were separated from the spirit by a small stone wall. He sat in a lean-to that was filled with drums, ceremonial objects, and offerings, including the ones we had brought. There were two assistants who sat just outside the shed. Charles, the caretaker at Bushbaby, translated for us.

We were each allowed to ask the spirit a question. For mine, I explained that I am getting married in June and I asked for prayers for a child. The spirit asked if I had been married before, if I had had any children, and if I had ever seen a doctor about it. I explained that I had never tried to have a child, and he asked what I was worried about. Erica explained that I wasn't worried, only maybe did not want to wait too long. The spirit laughed and said, "don't worry, the baby is on its way!" You heard it here first, folks! :) (Just kidding, Greg, Mom, Sue!)

It started to rain just as we finished talking to the spirit, so we made a fairly quick exit. We took a few quick photos outside the shrine, got on the bus, and drove back to Harare, tired, overwhelmed, but happy with the day.

Hamming it up at the photo shoot!

Leave a Reply