The birth of Gokwe (GK)

At some stage, the area now known as Gokwe was called Sebungu and was established in 15 March 1898. Sebungu and Mapfungautsi were later combined into Sebungwu-Mapfungautsi on the 2nd of August 1901. Sebungu was then condensed to Sebungwe on 21 February 1907, and then Sebungwe was renamed to Gokwe on the 18th January 1957.

This area was mainly populated by the Tonga, Shona and Ndebele tribes of Mkoka who believed in the most high God (Mwari) through the veneration of their ancestors and they built their houses along Kana River.  The present day Gokwe-Kana is still under chief Mkoka. Despite the hot weather, tsetse flies, and wild animals, the area was densely populated. People are believed to have been depending much on hunting and farming like most African societies for their basic needs. Prior to the 1940s, these 3 great tribes had their own beliefs- they subscribed to traditional religion. In fact religion played an important part in their daily lives, including socio- political and economic life.

Traditional ceremonies were performed before commencement of the farming seasons and even in hunting there were some norms and taboos which sought to preserve and conserve the resources for future generations.  Cattle were also “treated”, through a tradition known as Iziko– Ndebele name which simply means “the ensuring of increased fertility and production of cattle through the veneration of ancestors for taking care in their cattle”. It is interesting to learn that in pre-colonial Gokwe- people, like many other tribes, measured their wealth through the number of cattle which one possessed and it was a privilege to have many cattle as they enabled one to marry many wives which led to a large number of children and these children were a force of labor to reckon with especially during the farming seasons. It was a taboo for a woman to enter the kraal as it was believed that women would lead even to mysterious dying of cattle. On the other hand, men were not allowed to partake in cooking but a preserve for women. Whilst one may not see the value behind these restrictions, the research from which this article was extracted took interest from such operations and further goes on to support that such practices worked as they were an appeasement to the dead who in return would reward them with prosperity in their production and good health.

The dead were believed to possess super natural powers and to be in direct contact with God thus having the powers to mediate between the living and the almighty. The importance of ancestors is justified by ceremonies such as umthethelo (Ndebele), kurova guva (Shona) or kuuma bbalu (Tonga) which are ingrained in ancestral beliefs and such performances in Gokwe – Kana have evolved to the present day and in each and every ceremony conducted, the Tonga of Mkoka are invited for entertainment purposes, In fact they have drums (ngoma) and horns (nyeele) which they blow orderly and in a manner that produces a melodious rendition and this is an integral part of their culture. According to Nyambara, the Shangwe people mixed with the Ndebele and Tonga could tell with high degree of accuracy that rain was about to fall in three or four days’ time through the study of the atmosphere. This is a clear indication that the people of Gokwe –Kana were highly acclimatised to their weather patterns and even up to the present day, there are still such elderly people who can foretell such but unfortunately the young generation believes more in modern technology and meteorological weather reports.

The elderly in this area still narrate how people in their times lived long and death was rare and sacred. In fact they claim that people mainly died of old age and children rarely died. This does not mean that there were no diseases in the area but one need to scrutinize the type of medicine used by the people. The Western or European view has consistently and widely used the pejorative and derogatory terms such as witchdoctor and superstition when describing and referring to these African health practitioners. This article was extracted from a research that sought to analyze the role of African traditional medicine to people’s livelihoods in Gokwe-Kana since the pre-colonial times. To a larger extent the study dwelt extensively on the fact that Traditional Medicine has been effective in maintaining the public health care system in Gokwe Kana since the time immemorial.

African traditional medical system defines disease and illness within given contexts, thus diseases and illness are inextricably interwoven in the social status of the group concerned. When one is infected or affected by a disease, he or she cannot perform his or her duties and functions within the social group. The individual’s illness affects the group (family members, neighbors and friends), and through this societal cohesion the elderly would initiate the therapy; consult one another and recommend a specialist healer. Sidinga (1995) posits that natural diseases such as diarrhea, skin rush and rheumatism may be treated by Western medicine or by traditional medicine or both, whilst human-induced illness ( unnatural diseases ) may be a result of sorcery, witchcraft, spirit  disturbances or breaching socio-religious obligations and taboos, especially with regard to the ancestors. Such diseases were referred to traditional healers according to their various specializations. There are herbalists, diviners, seers, spiritualists, traditional surgeons and birth attendants (nyamukuta) which were pejoratively referred as witches or blacksmiths. This study with lesser attention at colonialism, sought to bring a common understanding to the reader that traditional medicine in Gokwe continued to be widely used despite the negative stereotypic views and perceptions. In fact the whites had as they came to Zimbabwe mainly driven by economic interests, deliberately put stringent policies which sought to discredit everything African in favor of European style of living. The Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1899 dealt a heavy blow to African traditional medicine since its enactment aimed largely at dislodging and discrediting the traditional medicine.  The people of Gokwe believed in high God through the veneration of spirit mediums, amadlozi, vadzimu or bazimo and this saw the ritual practices such as umthethelo, umbuyiso/magadziro being eroded. Therefore this study points out that traditional medicine in Gokwe Kana  indeed did bring mixed feelings towards the use of such and they absolutely failed to take out the faith which the indigenous people had put in their medicine.

The attainment of independence in 1980 in Zimbabwe and the government had a lot of things to address and in their health sector formalization of traditional medicine was part of the core reforms. As such, an organization of traditional healers called Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) was founded. This was government’s deliberate move which aimed at safeguarding the independence of traditional healing from the oppressive and negative perception it had for some time. Thus this saw people in Gokwe-Kana again becoming free and they resumed their traditional style of health management. However whilst a number of people continue to use traditional medicine due to economic challenges and general interest in it, the Medicinal Control Authority of Zimbabwe has raised concerns on its use claiming that it does not take the correct prescriptions to the users thus chances of overdosing the patient is high and likely to pause some serious threats to the patient as they are not scientifically tested thus pseudoscientific. Whereas this study does not say people should use only traditional medicine but rather have an integrated health kind of system where the former is juxtaposed with Western methods for a sound health system.

Overall the study delved on the use of traditional medicine in Gokwe-Kana since the pre-colonial era to the present day. It has shown that the Tonga, Shona and Ndebele people still have faith in African medicine and they use it to cure a number of diseases which include among others; headaches, flue, asthma, cancer, sexual transmitted diseases and some social and spiritual calamities like ngozi/ ingozi which cannot be addressed by conventional medicine. Apparently, colonialism failed to dislodge the use of African medicine even though it had intended to wash it away. After independence, people again got the audacity to use it and it is continuing to gain much ground because of it’s accessibility and reasonable cost.

By Ngwenya Menelisi – Historian and Monitoring & Evaluation Officer with GOAL Zimbabwe

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