Ndau dances and crafts impart environment management

Tinashe Muchuri

Arts and cultural festivals are a way that provides interaction of cultures and Zimbabwe has many festivals that take place in cities, small towns and rural areas all showcasing the diverse cultural practices through culinary, herbs, music, dance, song, and crafts.   

One of the festivals held annually in Zimbabwe is the Ndau Festival of the Arts (NDAFA), a one day arts and culture festival held at Paiyapo Arts Development and Heritage Centre, 45km south-west of Chipinge in Manicaland Province. Most people who reside in this area have relatives across the border in Mozambique separated by colonial borders.

Paiyapo is a bush that the organisers of NDAFA are reclaiming from human activity. The director of the Paiyapo centre Phillip Kusasa said: “Culture has a well-defined way of life that has to be documented and well-kept for the benefit of the future generation and if the current generation fails to put in place strategies to safeguard all aspects of Ndau culture the future will be doomed since it will lack immortalized base to rely own.”

Looked at from a distance the entrance to the festival site resembles any other bush but as one gets closer one sees an exhibition space and a stage where the dances are held. There is a stream that begins from within the centre which Kusasa said there used to be a water spring that used to provide water to the villagers.

At the once water spring, the centre created a mock Ndau protected well and around the well there are various seedlings of diverse trees, flowers, herbs, and grass. This is a section they call a green culture site.

Kusasa said the exhibition is designed to show delegates to the festival how Ndau people’s culture embraces environmental and green culture.

“As members of the global world desperate to reduce the impact of climate change, it has emerged in our programming that there is need to show the world that in some under-documented cultures like Ndau, there might be some cultural practices that are environmental friendly that may need to be that documented and that given an international space the world may be saved,” he said.

Cultural aspects of environmental management ethics are usually ignored as people look at them as primitive. The coming in of the interaction with other cultures through religion, new belief systems are said to be the source of stifling the old progressive ways of managing the environment.

“Culture aspects like environmental ethics are threatened by other cultures. If measures are not taken to preserve the Ndau knowledge systems soon or later the whole culture will be extinct,” said Kusasa.

As a norm for the past five years in September, thousands of Ndau people convene and are entertained by various school dancing groups and professional groups. Among these groups were those that play madanda/mhongo dance- a water spirits appeasing dance.

Kusasa said this mhongo dance is another way that reminds the people of good environmental management ethics like not using unclean water carrying objects especially those once put on fire, washing at water pools is also prohibited creating a clean environment for the people, livestock and the environment. He said another other dance that shows how nature management is important to the Ndau people is the Hondora dance- a hunters’ dance.

“We have madanda/mhongo, a mermaid appeasing dance. Through this dance we remind people about good environmental practices. Without the canopy, rivers would cease to flow. So the dance is therefore reinforcement on the need to maintain green culture. Also hondora- a hunting dance celebrate green culture. Hunters depend on wild plants and grass for cover. Without the grass the whole practice would be meaningless,” he said.

Kusasa said apart from dances that remind people of the importance of nature to man, Ndau are said also to rely a lot from tree seeds and therefore pose a need for tree to grow to maturity.

“Crafts depend on good environmental ethics that embrace tree conservation, we have very beautiful seeds from mukamba, musasa which are used to make beads, failure to nurture trees to that age of maturity will fail the whole African beauty that depends on nature,” he used.

Before the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights the Ndau people were already environmentally aware and were protecting it for future generations.

In a book titled “Climate Change in Zimbabwe” published by Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung, forests are said to have a migratory power of reducing emissions. This puts the NDAFA green culture in the right gear to curb the impacts of climate change in the country.

“Like most African countries, Zimbabwe has no binding emissions target.

“One way that Zimbabwe and many other developing countries contribute to mitigation is through addressing land-use change and forest issues,” it is said.

The fight against climate change is taking diverse methods which include community-based adaptation where communities work with government agencies or NGOs to analyse their vulnerabilities and assess their risks of climate change hazards.

The Ndau people are spreading awareness through their dances, crafts and cultural environmental awareness.

SADC has also come up with three policy areas that is to, “protect and improve the health, environment and livelihoods of the people of southern Africa with priority to the poor majority; preserve the natural heritage, biodiversity and life supporting ecosystems in southern Africa; and support regional economic development on an equitable and sustainable basis for the benefit of present and future generations.”

Kusasa said they came to this after a realisation that all their water spring sources are drying up due to reckless cutting down of trees and therefore the future was vulnerable to critical climatic change effects.

October 2017
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