The Herald (Harare)

8 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

column

We were confronted by kilometre after kilometre of apparently empty bush, then a scattering of mud-and-pole huts, dotted European-style main houses, a few criss-crossing gravel paths, cattle grazing on the verges of the road and precious little else. It was in late August and the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve was awash with premonition ceremonies, others call the process kurova guva or kuchenura.

Our destination was Nyakapupu area towards the western border with Mhangura.

Adults officiated throughout the night - singing and dancing - but spent the day resting, drinking and engaged in light domestic chores.

Young boys played with the drums during the day, imitating the cross rhythms the adult had been playing all night long, but the youngsters' beat is clearly immature for the experienced ear.

Each of the four drums has a unique vocal stylisation and you hardly get one drummer who can beat each drum with the same dexterity. When the drumbeat went in discord, it is immediately taken to the fireplace, where a temperamental bonfire teaches it to behave and to retune its vocal chords.

The cow skin on the drum listens fervently to the licking kissing fire flame. A veteran drummer's palms are as hard as the foot of an elephant. If you are unfortunate to be slapped with one such hand, you crack your cheeks and break your jaws. Your sight dims and you may see stars.

At the end of the tarred road, the dirty road snaked up and down. Our vehicle raised dust, swarming the aftermath. Decaying mud-and-pole huts and the sites of abandoned villages are soon lost in the dust. And, so are the old fields, the traces of ancient cultivation.

Finally we arrive for our function.

The first port of call is the secluded house of the oldest woman in the village, the great grandmother of the family. She sat on a reed mat under the shed provided by the eaves of the roof thatch. Behind the hut was the sound of a pounding pestle. Someone must have been preparing groundnut paste - dovi.

Smoke filled the doorway and she seemed to have depleted the hut for fresh air. Her face was wrinkled beyond imagination. A combination of old age, black dress

and the smoke made her look evil. The bloodshot eyes looked like two evil holes, from where rivulets of fluid ran down the flabby cheeks.

Her feet were cracked, her skin bone dry and extremely dark. The hair was wiry. She was frail and spoke with a shriek but authoritative voice.

She insisted on us getting into the hut to appease the spirits. One is only welcome by the spirits when you enter a house, so the villagers believe. Sooner the smoke had slightly subsided and we could see clearly the inside of the house.

Soot hung all over and lay thick on most objects - pot, plates, cups and all. The soot had tainted even the normally glossy coats of the rats. One such rat made darting runs between clay pots and water buckets. The roof, the roof, the roof. On the roof was sooty. Some of the soot hung down in strings, like the locks of Rastaman.

Her son, Muchemwa (the mourned one) had long left for another area where he had become a huge traditional healer. His name had been adjusted to Tsikamutanda. This was more aligned to his miracle realm, where he was a witch hunter.

He had taken the country by storm. During his witch hunting escapades, he made a fortune in cattle and cash. He bought cars. At times he was given cars and cattle as payment.

On this particular day, he had come to see his mother and also to be part of the premonition ceremony. But there was no job for him.

He had a huge car and a driver.

The car became an attraction in the village. Women and children gathered around the spectacle. Villagers remarked the car could talk.

Things changed immediately when his wife arrived. Tsikamutanda's face changed and he became visibly shaken. Something was amiss. She was fuming. He tried to take her aside and avoid a public spectre. But she could not have it. She had followed to destroy him.

Slowly villagers started gathering around the couple. She went ballistic about the his flirtation with a female member of his entourage. He had impregnated her.

The crowd soon gathered they were divorcing. He tried to calm her down, but she stood her ground, shouting, pointing fingers. Shouting. Shouting. Swearing! Shouting. Swearing. Slapping. Violence! The party looked at her in consternation.

"You lie to the people. Today I am telling all these people here that you are not genuine but you use juju.

"You are lucky I found you in the village far away from the people you normally deal with. People don't know you got this juju from Espungabera in Mozambique. In fact, I will get you when you are at work."

Village elders took away Tsikamutanda, who had become visibly irritated and wanted to bash her. She had slapped and spate in his face. She had challenged his manhood. Do village elders not say manhood is not defined by having the biggest bamboo stick?

Commotion, commotion, commotion! There was shouting, pushing and then quiet, quiet, quiet. Quiet.

The climax was when close relatives tried to calm her down and whisk her away.

She let the cat out of the bag. She would not go without demonstrating how her husband cheated on imputed witches. One villager agreed to do the experiment.

"It is all juju. See this magic in my pocket. Let me demonstrate." She demonstrated on one of the villagers. "Are you not a witch? Tell people what you have, tell them . . . I said tell them . . ."

The villager started confessing to witchcraft. He shook his head. His stomach rumbled.

"You see, there is nothing. It is all juju! This man is not a witch. But this juju confused him, worked on him. It makes him hallucinate. It instills fear of death in him. This is how you are all cheated.

"Let me remove non-existent goblins from one of you and you will see them. Give me your back. Can anyone give his or her back so that I can demonstrate?"

One young woman offered and on she went. She rubbed the concoction on her back and then used her fingers to pluck out some goblin.

"You see this thing. It does not exist. This is a miracle he uses. This magic makes miracles. I have lived with him for 10 years and I know all his tricks. Is this not a miracle? Is this genuine witch-hunting? Do you want me to call a hyena and you see it running here right away?" she asked.

There was chaos and commotion. Laughing, ululating and shouting. Surprise, surprise, surprise! She was too angry, bitter and out to destroy. She named the godfathers of the prophecy. She let all the secrets out in public. She was unstoppable!

It was embarrassing. It was a shame. It was a spectacle! Soon the engine of the huge car started. It hissed and puffed a cloud of smoke, taking off at tremendous speed.

Soon dust covered the aftermath!

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