VaRemba: A rich cultural tourism tribe

Freedom Mupanedemo
Zimbabwe boasts seven wonders that tourists across the globe can trickle in to make a date with hence the dictum, “Zimbabwe a world of wonders”. Zimbabwe is also famed as one of the capitols of wildlife and nature. But the much touted natural wonder that Zimbabwe is blessed with is the might Victoria Falls, one of the best natural wonders in the world that colonial explorer David Livingstone once described as “so beautiful that even angels on their flight to heaven should have stopped and gazed”.
Among these seven wonders in Zimbabwe is the people and their culture.
But unlike Swaziland, where its people and culture have attracted millions of tourists visiting the country yearly for the reed dance, Zimbabwe despite her hospitable people and a rich culture, has done nothing to package this.
Yet, Zimbabwe is rich with cultural festivities like the VaRemba/VaMwenye cultural ceremonies done every year.
Mberengwa might be a remote district tucked away on the southern borders of Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province but there lives a unique tribe closely knit, who so love their culture, identity and indeed their area.
It is home to the VaRemba/VaMwenye tribe of the Zhou totem. September and October could be two perfect months to visit this area if one is to appreciate and learn more about this tribe.
Every August, youths and a few adults retreat to the bush for a month’s initiation before they return at the beginning of September.
During the bush retreat, youths are initiated into adulthood with circumcision coming in as the climax of the process.
According to the VaMwenye tribe, it’s only when one goes through this one month initiation that they are accepted as part of the tribe.
Before the initiation and circumcision, one is regarded as an alien despite being of the same descent.
“You might be a father and heading a family but until you go for one month initiation, you will not be part of us. You are not allowed to gather where the VaMwenye gather,” said Takarubuda Zhou, an elder who on several times has led the youths into the bush for the initiation.
As per tradition, the VaMwenye do not divulge what exactly happens during the initiation process but one elder Chawasarira Mpangeri said what basically happens during the initiation process is grooming the boys into manhood.
“It’s a taboo to divulge to the public what happens in the bush but basically, the youths will be taught how to behave, how to lead a family and what is expected of someone who would have graduated,” he said.
But it is the after initiation celebration that has made the VaMwenye people a closely knit band and a fascinating group of people that they are today.
After the initiation, September and October are always hectic, the months are full of pomp and fanfare.
To celebrate a family member’s graduation into adulthood, each family brews traditional beer, which takes a whole seven days of fermenting.
A date is then set when the actual ceremony will be conducted.
During the ceremony, there is plenty of beer, people drink themselves silly.
The graduate(s) is joined by fellow graduates in song and dance.
Clad in white robes and tight round white hats, brandishing long jointed sticks, the graduates go round in a circular pattern singing and dancing showcasing the skills they would have mastered during their stay in the bush.
Dangling their long jointed sticks, they entertain the huge and ululating crowd from morning till late in the day.
Not to be outdone those not so well gifted in the dance can as well exhibit their skill through drum beating and whistle blowing.
The VaMwenye celebration ceremony is surely awesome, an event that can keep the spectators spellbound all day.
With the sun approaching its mother’s womb, a podium is then set for the master of ceremony to receive and announce gifts as people congratulate the graduates for completing the initiation process.
Here, the father can offer a gift of a cow or a steer, congratulating his child for completing the initiation process.
Gifts range from cattle, goats, chicken to wooden stools.
It’s quite a very important ceremony to this tribe, a ceremony celebrated the way some fête when a family member acquires a master’s degree or some other educational qualification.
The VaMwenye, VaRemba or Vashavi people are surely an awesome tribe one should surely make a date with.
But where did they originate from?
There are various theories on the origins of the VaMwenye or Vashavi people.
Found predominantly in Mberengwa and other parts of Zimbabwe such as Gutu, Chiredzi, Hwedza and Buhera, the VaMwenye or VaShavi as they are affectionately known, can be traced back to a Jewish ancestry.
Other schools of thought believe the vaMwenye’s forefathers hailed from Yemen in the Middle East and that they were Arab traders, “Vashavi” in Shona who ended up settling in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
They are a distinct group of people who do not eat meat from certain animals and only eat meat from animals they would have slaughtered themselves.
Only a male who would have graduated from the initiation school is allowed to slaughter an animal or bird that is lawful for them to eat.
VaMwenye bury their dead with the corpse facing northwards and lying on its right side.
A male who would have completed the initiation process is required to always carry with him a knife so that if he is called upon to slaughter an animal, he will be ready for the task.

December 2015
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