Tracing the Buja culture, its history and mysteries

September 6, 2018


MUTOKO – The best way to experience Buja culture is to experience it firsthand. While most people usually laugh at some of the members of this tribe mostly because of their dialect and some of their cultural practices, an authentic experience will no doubt bring about a new kind of respect for the Buja people who settled in deep Mashonaland East.

It is an authentic experience that these two writers were after when they set off for Mutoko, which is about 150km from the capital. Mutoko presents itself as another sprawling growth point, whose development is mainly anchored on granite mining.

Just as you enter Mutoko, to the left of the Nyamapanda Highway, is Chidzidzi low density suburb. Adjacent to Chidzidzi is Presbyterian high density suburb. The picture of huge urban houses with roof tiles is just like any other in Zimbabwe’s urban dwellings, yet about 10 km further, the surroundings change to a deep rural settlement.

This rural settlement is home to Chief “Dawa” Mutoko and sits opposite the well-known Mutoko High School. This is where one gets the first feel of the Buja culture and might even get a history lesson too, if one is lucky. For it is here where the local culture is championed and where any violation is met with punishment, sometimes punitive.

When the Business Times crew arrived at the chief’s compound, they were asked to pay $5 for ‘kabikiro.’ Kabikiro is a gift that enables one to get the ear of the chief. Being in the chief’s presence also has its rules. For instance, you are not allowed to shake the chief’s hand while women are barred from wearing trousers at his compound. Failure to abide by such rules attracts a fine.

The chief said the Buja culture was rich and still useful although some of the laws enacted by the government were limiting the people’s ability to live by it. “We used to have meetings at homestead and village level to teach our young ones how to behave. However, these days, the moment you try to discipline people in line with our culture, they will report it as abuse,” he said.

In communal life among the Buja, becoming wealthy for any person is sometimes culturally attributed to either one’s ancestors or magic called tsvera or both. This tsvera is prominent in the history of Nehoreka and Shumba Murambwi (who was banished from the Buja people for stealing cows using magical charms). Chief Dawa said there were some cultural practices they still insist on like choosing people from the community who go to prepare and clean the Mutoko ruins.

“We value the place our ancestors rest. We call the place Dzimbahwe. We don’t cut trees or cultivate. We keep the place as is. We only go there to tidy the holy place. The place is cleaned by our sons in law and grand children who do it on our behalf. But during this cleansing period they are not allowed to have sexual relations with their spouses,” he said.

VaBuja are known for giving all visitors drinking water even when they don’t ask and before they start talking. We strictly adhere to proper marriage processes of paying bride price not the behaviour of the white man where couples just start staying together without the blessing of their family,” Dawa said.

Some of the cultural practices are done at the ruins.

“We brew a special beer called Mukwerera for the rains and this is done by elderly women who can no longer conceive and those who are not sexually active,” he added.

To date, just like in other tribes in Zimbabwe, the Buja do not allow people to marry from the same totem. If you fail to comply you will be fined for Makunakuna.

What are the origins of the Buja people?
The Buja people are said to have settled in Mutoko from Mhingari in what is now Mozambique, led by Nohoreka (or Nohureka), his father Mukombwe, his brothers Nyanzunzu and Mukwiradombo and sister Chingate (Nyamungate or Njapa).

Narrating the origins of the Buja people, Dawa said historical evidence shows that Nehoreka came from Mozambique in the 16th century to the present day Mutoko, which was then ruled by Chief Makate, a man with powerful charms who used magic to subdue his rivals.

According to Betty Zengeni (nee Mazarura of the Shumba Nyamuzihwa clan from Mutoko) Nehoreka attempted to dislodge Makate but was overpowered at first but a devious plan, which was coordinated through Nehoreka’s sister Njapa, saw him take over the Mutoko chieftainship. This, according to Zengeni, was because Makate possessed some kind of magic, masaramusi.

After the first battle, Nehoreka returned to Mozambique, in the Zambezi valley in the Tete province of Mozambique where he returned with Njapa to offer to Makate as his peace offering. Unbeknown to Makate, Njapa would act as a spy to find out the source of his powers. And in true Samson and Delilah fashion, Njapa managed to uncover Makate’s secret, which was that no cock should crow in his homestead. If that happened, then his power would disappear.

“When this secret was uncovered, Nehoreka managed to go to battle and defeat Makate. And this is where the name Nehoreka came from. Ndakukoreka, what modern day lingo would refer to as ndakuconner…I have tricked you,” Zengeni said. This is how Nehoreka’s people became rulers of the Mutoko people.

After the battle, Makate is said to have mysteriously disappeared into Mutemwa Mountain near Mutoko centre although he had managed to get his people into caves which are at the ruins. Makate’s remains and those of his people were never found and this has many people from the area believing that they are still alive till this day.

Zengeni said in line with this folklore, the caves and Mutemwa mountain are sacred. Some of the caves like Ruchera caves are rich in well-preserved rock paintings. She also added that Makate is believed to have left a hoe on top of the caves when he was escaping the advancing army of Nehoreka and this hoe can be seen till this day. Only by those with special gifts.

Nehoreka was assisted in the conquest by Zvimbiru and Nyakutanda and these three are the founding ancestors of the people now referred to as Buja. Nehoreka was naturally the main clan and is identified by the Shumba Nyamuzihwa totem. The Nehoreka people settled at Charehwa which is now the ritual home of the Mutoko chieftainship under the Shumba Nyamuzihwa totem.

The mysteries of the Buja people
As a people, whose ancestors strongly believed in magic, there are a lot of mysteries and mysterious places in Mutoko. The Mutoko ruins are no doubt the most known.

The Buja people often refer to Mutoko ruins as Tere RaMakate (Makate’s former village). This is why the Buja do not recognise the ruins as belonging to the ancestors. National Museum and Monuments of Zimbabwe has since taken over the custodian of the place.

Tour guide and custodian of the ruins Wonder Karumazondo said the ruins were built and occupied by Makate. “We have opened this place and people are free to come as a way of reminding the people of Mutoko about the origins of the Buja people and culture,” said Karumazondo.

He said the place has become a meeting place for some traditional leaders as they converge for burning issues that affect the society. “When there is drought in this area, traditional leaders converge here for a function. They go into the mountain to ask for rains from their ancestors. However, it is at Dzimbahwe where the most sacred rituals are done,” Karumazondo said.

The ruins are located in headman Rutsito’s area. In that area is a well that is believed to be sacred and that the Mutoko ancestors occasionally come to drink water from there. In fact, a lot of traditional healers from across the country make use of this well for their healing waters. An attempt by a 21-year-old man to eat fish from that well two years ago backfired and he died. It is believed that there is a snake that stays in a cave under that well and that snake is said to be the source of water for the well.

It’s Dzimbahwe that’s sacred for the Buja not the ruins
The Buja instead recognise Dzimbahwe, which is not far from the ruins. Dzimbahwe holds the spirit of Nehoreka. The spirit of Nehoreka is currently believed to influence Buja religious and political events as well as the economy.

In times of drought the Buja travel to Charehwa where the spirit medium of Nehoreka manifests in a svikiro (spirit medium), that is a woman called Charehwa to ask for rain. The current svikiro is from Nyamapanda. Zengeni said the svikiro stays in a windowless hut (which is always dark) when she is not in the mountains but is treated and gets the same benefits as the chiefs. The svikiro does not associate with members of public.

This is so, because according to Charehwa traditions, Nehoreka was not perpetuated through a son so his chieftainship fell into the female line who ruled under the supervision of Mutoko. She is to vacate her office at the death of Mutoko and re-appointed only at the discretion of the new Mutoko.

She was to be the Mutupo’ Tembo and was supposed to be an elderly and unmarried woman. One thing is true of these people. They have great respect for elders, so in practice the woman ruler did not vacate her office but usually got the approval of the next Mutoko since she had the approval of the medium of Nehoreka.

According to a paper; The Impact of Colonial Rule on The People of Mutoko, Nehoreka remained very powerful among the Buja way after his death. No Chief in Mutoko could rule without the approval of the medium of Nehoreka. Even Courtney Selous was able to notice this; “Before coming here I have had no difficulty with any of the other chiefs, but here I have had a lot of worry and trouble.

The great difficulty is that the whole country is really ruled, not by the Chief (Mutoko) but by one whom they call the ‘Lion God’. This appears to be a hereditary office and the holder of it lives away by herself/ himself in the mountains, and is looked upon with superstitious dread and reverence by the Chief and his people”.

Arts festival to celebrate the Buja
The traditional leaders also welcomed the decision by a local Emmanuel Manyati who is the founder of the Buja Arts festival to have a cultural festival at the Mutoko ruins. The festival will be held early December. “Last time there were several traditional leaders who came to grace the Buja Arts festival. They came to ask the ancestors to bless the festival as it seeks to uphold their cultural values,” Karumazondo said.

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