To pray or not to pray: To whose God and in whose way

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Culture/arts/education -

Cul­tural Her­itage

Pathisa Ny­athi

MOST so­ci­eties do recog­nise the pres­ence of a su­per­nat­u­ral power, some God of sorts who has power and takes care of hu­man be­ings. The Nde­bele call him uNku­lunkulu; the Sotho/Tswana re­fer to Him as Modimo (later Nde­belised to uMlimu) while the Shona call him Mwari and the BaKalanga re­fer to him as Mwali. The Xhosa call him uMvelin­qangi. What is clear is that var­i­ous Africa peo­ples did recog­nise the ex­is­tence of a God who had well known spir­i­tual or re­li­gious roles to play for the good of com­mu­ni­ties con­cerned.

When the early Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies made con­tact with these God-fear­ing African peo­ple there was no need to rein­vent the wheel in terms of what name to give to God. The God who is writ­ten about in the Bi­ble be­came Mwari, uNku­lunkulu, uMvelin­qangi, Mwali etc. Ideas con­cern­ing God may have dif­fered be­tween the pi­o­neer­ing Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies and African peo­ples that they sought to pros­e­ly­tise.

With re­gard to the Africans, God was not in gen­eral terms, ap­proached di­rectly. In­stead, there was a hi­er­ar­chy of lesser gods who were in the front line and clos­est to hu­mankind. Each godly per­son­al­ity for­warded mes­sages to the next in the hi­er­ar­chy till it got to the Source, to God be­yond whom there was no other greater power. In terms of how the hi­er­ar­chy was pro­pi­ti­ated there were dif­fer­ences. Gods were ap­proached through a prayer, ukukhuleka.

We should be aware how the term was used in other re­lated sit­u­a­tions. A vis­i­tor ap­proach­ing a Nde­bele vil­lage stood by the en­trance, isango and akhuleke. “E! kuhle!” he or she would yell so that his /her voice car­ried far so as to reach the ears of vil­lage res­i­dents. This was a way of an­nounc­ing him­self /her­self to the res­i­dents/ vil­lage in­mates. It was all in­tended to an­nounce his good in­ten­tions. In those times there were raiders who did not an­nounce their ap­proaches. Their aim was to raid chil­dren and cat­tle. Some­times they would burn the grass grain bin, izilulu and leave vil­lagers in a dire sit­u­a­tion in which, in the ab­sence of re­serve grain, they would starve to death.

As a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure, some grain was stored in cat­tle pens, ez­ibayeni where im­ilindi, grain bins, were dug and fires lit in them so as to en­sure there was no mois­ture which would spoil the grain. The in­te­rior was then plas­tered, ukub­hada, and fol­lowed by ukusinda, smear­ing. Ash and grass were in­tro­duced prior to grain be­ing poured in. Such grain was called um­n­cat­sha and was re­serve grain in the event grass grain bins, izilulu, went up in smoke. We have, in pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles, made men­tion of the role of ash in grain preser­va­tion.

The Lon­don Mis­sion­ary So­ci­ety (LMS) mis­sion­ary Rev­erend Doc­tor Mof­fat did ob­serve in his 1835 visit to King Mzi­likazi Khu­malo and his Nde­bele peo­ple, then domi­ciled in the Marico-Egab­heni ar­eas of West­ern Transvaal (now the Lim­popo Prov­ince), how the monarch ‘‘prayed’’ to God via his an­ces­tors. We are told that King Mzi­likazi Khu­malo (please do note that be­fore coloni­sa­tion the Nde­bele peo­ple did not use two names, first name and a sur­name) used to keep a head of black cat­tle, (un­cas­trated) with each al­lo­cated to one of his an­ces­tors in the long royal ge­neal­ogy, start­ing with the youngest an­ces­tor, his own fa­ther Mat­shobana to the old­est (read most se­nior) known, and near­est to the Source (God).

Oral tra­di­tion has it that such black cat­tle were kept at a vil­lage un­der his ma­ter­nal un­cles, the Ndi­we­nis, and specif­i­cally where Tshamayi Ndi­weni was chief (EMac­ing­wane/Kwez­im­nyama) where the chief­tain­ship is re­ferred to as KoWasi to­day. Kwez­im­nyama refers to the very black cat­tle that were used dur­ing pro­pi­ti­a­tion of royal an­ces­tors, main­tain­ing the hi­er­ar­chy where the most re­cent or youngest an­ces­tors were called upon first. Both this Ndi­weni house and that of Mabuyana (Nyanga­zonke’s grand­fa­ther) were de­scended from Khond­wane, King Mzi­likazi Khu­malo’s ma­ter­nal un­cle (re­ferred to in his­tory books a Gund­wane). The Nde­bele monarch’s bi­o­log­i­cal mother (isisu alala kuso) was Cikose Ndi­weni, a sis­ter to Khond­wane, both be­ing chil­dren of Ndlovu (not totemic).

His cul­tural mother, re­spon­si­ble for his as­cend­ing the royal throne, was Nom­pethu Nx­u­malo who was umd­lunkulu, the se­nior house en­ti­tled to pro­duce the heir ap­par­ent. Mat­shobana’s right hand house (wife) eyan­ga­sokunene, was Cikose Ndi­weni whose el­dest son, Mzi­likazi, in the ab­sence of the Nx­u­ma­los bring­ing an inhlanzi, a sur­ro­gate wife, was en­ti­tled to take over. What led to Mzi­likazi tak­ing over was that ei­ther Nom­pethu Nx­u­malo did not pro­duce a son or her own bi­o­log­i­cal son Prince Dwan­gubana Khu­malo who lived among his ma­ter­nal un­cles, abakoNx­u­malo, the Nd­wandwes whose king was Zwide okaLanga, was done away with by the Khu­ma­los after re­al­is­ing he was no match for the ris­ing Zulu king — uShaka kaSen­zan­gakhona.

Rev­erend Dr Mof­fat saw the pro­pi­ti­a­tion rit­ual en­gaged in for his own sake as vain. King Mzi­likazi Khu­malo thought the LMS mis­sion­ary was a God send, a white chief from whom he was set to get what he was al­ways keen to pos­sess — guns in an ef­fort to match the Gri­qua(Amalawu or Amahiligwa) and the wan­der­ing Afrikan­ers who, some­times in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sotho/Tswana peo­ples, at­tacked the Nde­bele. For him guns were also for other pur­poses-shoot­ing ele­phant. “When I ob­tain guns from the white king, I shall shoot ele­phant and give him ivory.”

Con­trol of ivory trade was one way in which African rulers amassed wealth. In­de­pen­dent hunters were ex­pected to give a share of their ivory to the monarch who traded with whites (Swahili, Arabs and later Por­tuguese) in the East Coast. King Mzi­likazi Khu­malo was no ex­cep­tion. He needed guns to shoot ele­phant so he could trade in ivory. He had learnt how to shoot rel­a­tively ac­cu­rately. Trade en­abled him to ac­quire ox wag­ons.

It was this ac­qui­si­tion and pos­ses­sion of ox wag­ons that led to the ex­pres­sion that to­day is of­ten used with­out knowl­edge of its his­tor­i­cal mean­ing: UMth­wakazi ondlela zimhlophe. The lat­est book that I am cur­rently work­ing on, re­gard­ing the his­tory of the Makhal­ima peo­ple, will deal with that is­sue more con­clu­sively. Ac­tu­ally, it will be the con­cept UMth­wakazi and its re­lated one, UMth­wakazi ondlela zimhlophe, which will be delved into, in both cases draw­ing from ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with Cont Mh­langa and other sources.

King Mzi­likazi Khu­malo thus re­garded Rev­erend Mof­fat as one who was go­ing to fa­cil­i­tate his ac­cess­ing guns to shift the bal­ance of power in his favour. Be­fore Rev­erend Mof­fat de­parted, the king ap­proached God, through his an­ces­tors, pray­ing to Him for jour­ney­ing mer­cies for the Rev­erend Dr Mof­fat who was re­turn­ing to Ku­ru­man in the land of the BaTh­lap­ing. Lit­tle did the monarch re­alise he was cast­ing pearls be­fore swine, his prayers were not ap­pre­ci­ated by the LMS mis­sion­ary who thought such forms of prayer were pa­gan and vain.

For him, pray­ing had to be done in his own way and those of oth­ers of the same re­li­gious per­sua­sion. Any­thing else was not only pa­gan but down­right su­per­sti­tious. The spir­i­tu­ally in­clined King Mzi­likazi mean­while prayed, “Mof­fat is sent by God. God is good to him. My com­pan­ion, who is as Ma­chobana, has come. God must pre­serve him that he may re­turn in safety. No evil must be­fall him while he is with his chil­dren.” Un­less the prayer was di­rected to the Rev­erend Mof­fat’s God, it was of no con­se­quence, as good as no prayer at all!

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