Book gives rare insight into revered spirit

Zimbabwe Classic Plays 2006

Reviewed By Gilbert Munetsi

More than a century into the death of one of Zimbabwe’s holiest Shona spirits that was also the prime force behind the first Chimurenga, Nehanda Nyakasikana, so much speculation still abounds over her life and subsequent demise.

Charwe Mhutsa, the ‘pocket’ of the spirit Nehanda, died at the hands of colonial settlers following a trial considered to be one of the most unfairest and scandalous legal proceedings of all time.

Historical texts, which form the core of the country’s current educational syllabus, have attempted to highlight the life, works and prophecies of this legendary spirit, and yet none could have come as close as “Kutongwa KwaNehanda Nyakasikana” (The Trial of Nehanda Nyakasikana), a 2006 publication penned by Ngwena Madzurutanda Musara.

Based on one-on-one interviews with some centurions as well as archival material unearthed in Mazowe (some 30 Km North-west of the capital, Harare) where Musara worked as District Administrator for more than eight years, the book perhaps comes closest in equipping any ardent historical mind with what exactly transpired there from the time the white man set foot into this country in 1890. It touches on the seizure of land from the black majority by the white minority, and how the first Chimurenga came into being.

Having gone through the 113-page play, one just cannot help but admit that here, indeed, is a great piece of work that is rich in detail as it is authentic, and should find its way onto any serious reader’s book shelf. Of utmost importance is the fact that this play is not only centred on the birth, trials and tribulations of a Shona martyr, but continues to tell the story of colonialism, culture, morality, land and patriotism. What also makes it even more authoritarian is the fact that Ngwena Musara is a historian, trained journalist and a former District Administrator of an area where most of the dramatised incidents occurred.

Currently, Musara is the Town Clerk of Kwekwe Municipality in the Midlands Province, and intends to have this play premiered in this city on August 5 during the 10th anniversary commemorations of the Kwekwe Sports and Cultural Festival. Plans are also on the cards to make “Kutongwa KwaNehanda Nyakasikana” a short film to be shown in the region and the world at large.

The plot begins with the Shona people, under the chieftainship of Hwata, gathered at a ‘dare’ (traditional gathering) where a big debate, regards the suffering the white man has brought forth, is in progress. Should they be meek and humble and succumb to the dreadful colonial suppression they are being subjected to, or they should stand up and take up arms? Here, one January Mavhura also comes into the spotlight and is depicted as a black ultimate sell-out who, as the plot thickens, could equal or even surpass the biblical Judas Iscariot. Then onto the scene enters Charwe, the daughter of Mhutsa and a twin sister of Bute (who later migrates to Chitungwiza where he becomes the pocket of the great spirit medium Chaminuka). Because it is deemed taboo in this era for two babies to be conceived at the same time, culture demands that one of the twins (Charwe or Bute) be killed. But when the two toddlers begin to speak in ‘tongues’, both are spared the grave. After Bute makes the trek to Chitungwiza in the company of his father Mhutsa, stories about his great and extraordinary deeds begin to surface and it is then that Charwe decides to follow him up. She however goes as far as Mazowe where she is accepted into Chief Hwata’s clan as the spiritual guide, Nehanda Nyakasikana.

She is thus consulted on this matter before the Chief’s ‘dare’ and does not hasten to give a decisive path to be taken – that of going to war. The Chief and his people listen and pay homage to her spiritual guidance as she sets them in motion to fight for what is rightfully theirs, carrying out to the syllable every instruction she gives them. Giving the people her nod to the war against the white colonialists, she however issues a stern warning:

“Asi ndinoda kukuyambirai kuti pakurwisana nevasina mabvi, ndapota hangu haikona kutora zvinhu zvavo. Mukangotora zvinhu zvavo chete, vanokukundai.

“Vane tunhu twavo tunonaka twakaita seshuga, mari, masutu, masiwiti notumwe twakadaro. Zvakare vanhu ava vane tsika dzavo dzavakabva nadzo kumusha kwavo’ mukarasa tsika dzenyu muchikwereta dzevasina mabvi munoguma maita ukama navo hwakaita sehwe muroyi nechidhoma” (But I want to warn you as you go to war never to accept the way of life of the white people as doing so would have fatal consequences).It is also to be noted here that Nehanda Nyakasikana is depicted as a no-nonsense spirit medium who also considers cowards as sub-humans and to emphasize her hatred of cowards she oftentimes uses sexually-explicit language which would be considered taboo were it to be uttered by an ordinary mortal.

A fierce battle rages at Alice Mine where the youthful blacks are being used as slaves to extract the rich minerals of the area and this results in the capture of Henry Pollard, the architect of the suffering among Chief Hwata’s people. It is this deed that sees Charwe arraigned before the courts in the then Salisbury where she is handed down the capital punishment – death by hanging. Contrary to reports in previous books of history which claim Charwe met her death by hanging from a tree in Harare’s Fourth Street, Musara argues that she died by gunshot as she tried to fight off the guards who were escorting her out of the courtroom.

August 2006
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