The forgotten heroes

Tengenenge is recognised today as the cultural bastion of Zimbabwe’s stone sculpture, for sculpture which contains no cultural impurities and is truly and genuinely African sculpture and African art. At Tengenenge in the l960’s/70’s and on to today sculptors prized and prize from their stones ‘passages’ from folklore, the aphorisms inchoate in myth and legend, the way that abstract ideas about religion were grounded and brought to life in masquerades. These sculptors,many coming from neighbouring African countries in the mid to late l950’s to what is now Zimbabwe were immigrants, more than card carrying subscribers to their original cultures, beliefs and their traditions. So the Chewa masked dance the Gule Wamkulu, the Great Dance of the Social Instution of the Nyau regained its bearings on farms including Tengenenge farm in the Guruve district. These early sculptors, Luizi Purumero,Paison Chibvembe, Charles Mustvairo, the woman sculptor Dofe Khorea. Anderson Mwale, and later Leman Moses, Makina Kameya, Wazi Maicolo, Josia and Jenet Manzi and later Kakoma Kweli told their stories, recounted their history, reminisced about their traditions in their stones in the middle of the African bush had no opportunity or desire to trip around the international art world. Their wishes were simple, to feed their families to put shoes on the soles of the feet of their children walking seven miles to the Horseshoe School in the Horseshoe Block, to take their wives to the clinic. They wanted to bring their relatives down from Malawi, Zambia, Angola and Mozambique to fully reconstruct their lives in a new country. They had come a long way, their ‘permanent settlement’ was Tengenenge. These were the times at Tengenenge when there was no electric light, when the bore hole ran dry, a time of bush tea on the table and man for the po,times during the dank and rainy season of ‘Bertie the Bat’ in the bath and ‘King Rat’in the kitchen. And these were times of war, insurgency, guns under the bed and guerrillas in the surrounding district.The sculptors were not going to give up their culture or their art. They a made sculpture, so rooted, so embedded in their culture and their traditions ‘ fonts of knowledge and African wisdom. Wazi Maicolo, known as ‘Wazi’ was a Yao from Malawi had a retentive memory, almost total recall of many Yao fables involving strange animals doing stranger thngs. ‘Wazi’ in addition to being a sculptor was a song and dance man, acting our the characters in the fables on the verandah of the office at Tengenenge which was once a mining shed. ‘Wazi’ was given his own ‘space’ at Tengenenge, a ruined mining shed, with walls with crevasses and holes in which he put his strange malingering sculptures of animals with sharp ears and slanted eyes, sculptures by day, frightening silhouettes by night. Josia Manzi of Yao origin came to Tengenenge settled with his family and made sculptures, putting into one stone complex stories of women eaten by crocodiles and bitten by snakes, and the woman who met the ‘handsome man’ by the river bed at moonlight time. There was Enos Gunja Korekore, whose gross misshapen of humanity came out in his sculpture, a recall of what he had seen in dreams. There was Makina Kameya, Mbunda from Angola, the right hand sculptor at Tengenenge who would climb the trees and take out the bees, a man who would fell a branch with one arm, a man who would deck out a stone Makishi mask in a bow tie and bowler hat. Coming back from the beer hall at dawn he would become a pile of tattered clothes lying on the dirt road near the mining shed. One day his sculpture fell upon his pelvis, three weeks later he died and his wife Jessie sprung her mantra ‘Makina is dead’ upon the entire community for many months after. During this time, the rains came, the white rain which covered the mountains of the Great Dyke in a bridal veil made of gauze, the torrents of rain which drowned the dirt roads and made Tengenenge inaccessible, inhospitable, unpenetrable. During this time the heat and the drought came, so that the grasses were burnt and the leaves withered from the trees,and small velt fires licked the bottoms of the stones. Still the sculptors sculpted. The Chewas made sculptures of almost moving figures wearing masks. The Nyau crashed their way through the bush, their leering faces painted ghastly white with brutal red slashes for mouths, Simone, Maria, Josefa. The Makanja, slurring his song, teetered through the bush on his stilts. The Nyau dance, the embrace of the entire community into Chewa culture, the traditionalists, the Korekore who believed in lion spirits and legendary kings, the Yao whose masked dances different from those of the Chewa, the Mbunda who believed in an hermaphroditic God/Goddess Kalungu who lived on a high hill, the Christians ‘ the Mapostories who pitched their tents and preached their sermons and howled their hymns and went away. One evening the Nyau caused a cultural disturbance at Tengenenge, a three night long dance marathon outside the house of Josia Manzi and his family with a bon fire of drums at the end. But all these people shared with Tom Blomefield, their culture, their languages and their way of life, and inducted him with African wisdom. At Tengenenge there has been a tradition of social order, things ‘put in place’ by Tom Blomefield with Bernard Matemera at his side. There were the times when Tom Blomefield had malaria and they would put his head on the pillow and scour the ‘moottie box’ for the pills, crank up the old phone and call the doctor in Mvurwi, load him like a sculpture in the back of the truck and take him to the clinic. There were the times when sculptors walked 40 ks from Guruve with their sculptures humped on their backs, and were received into the houses of the resident sculptors. Never was their no room at the inn. And there were those sculptors who cared for the cats who came mangy and maiouwing down the Dyke after the chrome miners left, and soon became fat and fulsome and knowing the time for lunch and what fell from the table. So culture and care kept Tengenenge alive, and sales were totted up in exercise books by candlelight into the night. There were times when people did not come, and nothing was sold, but the sculptors were not there to put their culture on display for visitors. They were there to reclaim their culture, express their knowledge and pride in their cultures in their stones. And they knew that they were there to better themselves, to make a ‘way’ for themselves in life which they would not have made as farm workers, or labourers or compound foremen, itinerant workers. So they pulled their stones from the mine, as if with their teeth, they married, begot and gave birth to children ‘ dressed them the best they could and sent them off to Horseshoe school. Not everyone knows these sculptors, knew these sculptors. Culturally ‘sealed off’ as they were for many years, the early Tengenenge sculptors thinking was framed neither by mentor or market but my memory and cultural practises which determined what they believed and how they lived. The Nyau dance the Gule Wamkulu remains an overwhelming presence in Tengenenge sculpture and still the Nyau will come to dance at Tengenenge, for their own pleasure and spiritual well being and also that of the community. Today some sculptors working in stone in Zimbabwe could come from any where in the world where their stones might be found. Tengenenge sculptors old and young could only come from Tengenenge. Heroic deeds were part of the fabric of life at Tengenenge, somehow, someway taking people to the clinic, putting out ranging velt fires out to kill the mountains of the Great Dyke, skirting around lions and leopards in Leopard Valley. But few know of these things, only those who have lived at Tengenenge, ‘been through’ Tengenenge and been part of its life.

April 2006
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