Mukwerera: Africa’s digital rain-making ceremony

27 Sep, 2015 - 00:09 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Simba Chiminya
Water has always been the symbol of life since time immemorial. Its deficiency has been and still is a cause for concern among communities around the world. It is from this premise that the rain-making ceremony has been practised by many communities so that they have abundant rains.

There is this belief that human cosmovision consists of three worlds that is the spiritual, the natural and the human and the relationships between them.

It is from this common belief that upholding this linkage brings fruits and abundance to the human race, but breaking it brings misery and suffering.

Thus, the rain-making ceremony, mukwerera in Shona, umtolo in Ndebele, has been practised before or at the onset of every rain season so that communities have abundant rains and harvests.

In African tradition, the people don’t own the land but the land owns the people, thus if the land is angry, there would be low rainfall leading to drought. So, to appease the land there should be a ceremony known as mukwerera/umtolo.

This belief is not only synonymous with Zimbabwe but is prevalent among many other African communities, Australia, China and the Americas. The Wu Shamans in ancient China performed sacrificial rain dance ceremonies in times of drought.

Wu served as intermediaries with nature spirits believed to control rainfall and flooding.
Shamans had to carry out an exhausting dance within a ring of fire until, sweating profusely, the falling drops of perspiration produced the desired rain. The practice is also common among the Osage and Quapaw Indian tribes of Missouri and Arkansas in the United States.

Zimbabwe National Practitioners’ Association acting president Ms Agnes Carson is a medium of the Rozvi descendants who conducts the rain-making ceremony under Chief Mkoba Bunina of Lower Gweru.

She says this ceremony is not only about asking for rain, but also for cleansing the land of evil; the reason why it is superintended by people deemed “clean”.
Ms Carson says, “Before the rain-making ceremony, the community should be clean.

‘‘It’s everyone’s responsibility in that community to uphold the laws of the land. The ceremony has to be done properly, with the Chief and his subjects working together with the spirit mediums.

“The ceremony has to be done properly as it’s not only about bringing rain, but good harvests, too. The land should be cleansed of bad spirits of murder, adultery which anger God.”

Traditionalist and African tradition and culture researcher Mr Boniface Mavengeni says spirit mediums known as manyusa in Shona lead the ceremony alongside elderly women who would have long stopped sexual activity.
Such women are involved as seed fermentation resembles the creation of mankind.

“Elderly women who are past sexual activity are responsible for immersing the seed in water and brewing beer for the ritual. They can get children who are not yet sexually active to help,” says Mr Mavengeni who has attended ceremonies under Chief Jiri in Gokwe and Chief Chiwara in Gutu .

“Normally, when the ceremony is held, the rains will start falling as the people dance or as they head home. It is said in the past, the rains washed away people’s footprints, and no one was allowed to seek shelter until they reached their respective homes.”

Ms Loriet Magunje, a spirit medium known as Mbuya Mavhu who has presided over rituals that involved Chiefs in Buhera and Mt Darwin adds: “The rituals should be done under a muchakata tree or some other tree that is of religious significance. The area surrounding the tree should be fenced off to avoid trespassers and/or evil wild animals.“People from the area put together seed or zviyo in Shona and send it to the Chief who, in turn, hands it over to the medium. This medium then commissions the seed to Musiki.

“The process goes on all-year round because after the rains have fallen abundantly, there is need to hold another ceremony to thank God for the harvest.”

Rain is the centre of the agricultural cycle, and most of Africa has always been anxious around water resources, meaning rain-making and its related rituals and myths are a key part of traditional African life.African cosmology and worldviews are espoused by thinkers like Nigerian author Ben Okri and Achille Mbembe of Cameroon who say modern communication technology, including the Internet, is a product of African consciousness.Okri argues that African understanding of the world has always been defined by the idea that you can communicate with someone who is not physically present where you are.

In traditional societies, it meant the spirits or ancestors mediated by oracles or shrines.
In the modern age, the same linkages follow, only that the shrine has been replaced by laptops and screens, though we are still communicating with distant, invisible people.

Cameroonian philosopher and political scientist Mbembe says, “Africa was digital before the digital.”

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