Mutoko, named after the local Chief Mutoko is a small town sited in a very mountainous region in Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe. The vaBuja vaBudjga/vaBudja are a small Shona speaking group which is part of the smaller Shona chiefdom and that reside in Mutoko district which falls as one of the eleven districts in the province, namely: Chikomba, Goromonzi, Hwedza, Marondera, Mudzi, Murehwa, Mutoko, Seke, Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe, Marondera Urban and lastly, Ruwa. It is located approximately 143km North-East of Harare on the A2 highway to Nyamapanda, Tete and Malawi.
The town is occupied mostly by the vaBuja people they cover a geographical area of 486 000 acres. They are now known for being the best tomato and mango farmers in Zimbabwe. This area also produces beans, cotton, maize, rapoko, groundnuts, cowpeas (Nyemba) and tobacco; and because of its mountainous terrain it is the source of granite stone. To the north and west of the vaBuja there are the VaZumba who occupy the Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe district beyond the Nyadire river; to the north and northeast are the Tonga under Chief Mkota in the Mudzi district; to the south there the VaZezuru under Chief Mangwende; in the east there the Hwesa who share a provincial boundary with the Manyika in eastern Zimbabwe. Mutoko was founded in 1911.
Origin of the vaBuja people
The VaBuja originally came from an area called Mingari/Mhingari/Mungari around 16th century, a remote area in the Zambezi region, in the Tete province in what is now known as Mozambique. The name of the people is derived from a Makaranga boy child born in Malawi, his name was Samabujga shortened to Maja and his sister known as Njapa. The boy was crippled, with a deformed leg. The vaBuja men swore by Njapa and the women swore by Maja, perhaps they regarded them to be sacred, hence, adopting the name. They first moved to Choma in Mozambique but due to lack of enough water they then moved to Buja country led by Nehoreka/Nohureka, with the assistance of his father (Mukombwe), brothers (Nyanzunzu and Mukwiradombo) and sister (Chingate-Nyamungate /Njapa). Nehoreka belonged to the Shumba (lion) Nyamuzihwa (the known one) totem (mutupo) and so did the rest of the vaBuja. The Shumba totem tracked south from Tanzania via Malawi and Mozambique as part of the century’s Bantu migration. The lion (shumba) is believed to be the king of the forest in terms of power, military might, courage, strength, cultural respect and fame, hence, the Shumba totem has become the cultural symbol of territorial authority and chieftaincy (umambo/ushe) of the vaBuja. Nehoreka’s people originally settled at Charehwa which is located between the Nyadire and Chitora Rivers, the current homestead of the ritual home of the Mutoko chieftainship under the Shumba Nyamuzihwa totem. The vaBuja are found in the outskirts of this homestead such as Nyatsine, Mutsvaire, Manhemba, Musanhi and Chindega.
The Shumba Nyamuzihwa totem (mutupo)
The vaBuja use the lion as their special name, identification and emblem. It represents very strong and competitive people owing to the mighty of the lion, which is considered the king of the jungle. The people of vaBuja are not allowed to marry from the same totem and if that taboo is defied and individuals decide not to comply they are fined for incest (makunakuna). Detembo for the Shumba:
Shumba, Hara, maita Muchori.
Maita waNanga wasina mhezi,
Wakabva Buja neMbondwe.
Maita muzukuru wa Chakoreka.
Ewo Bonga, weChingate,
Muzukuru waMapahwe, wari Choma,
Ewoyi Shumba, maita Hara.
Maita Bonga rangu riri,
Maita wari Mangadza.
Maita wari Dombojawa rina mawara machena,
Dombo rakaramba kumera uswa nemiti,
Rinoti makwapamakwapa anenge nzira.
Maita zvenyu Shumba,
Chikanda change chichi,
Maita waTsuri wamasawara.
Kana musipo hapana chinochekwa.
Maita Chiurayi, hekani Chikanda,
Mwana waMukombwe naNehokera,
Chipfuyawarombo, hekani waNjapa,
Maita mutumbe, Donga, wari Man’anja,
Zwaitwa Kondovha asingachariki mvura,
Mwana waChinyanga, asingaje imwe mbeu,
Kusiya kwezviyo chete.
Maita wari Tsatsa Mukonde,
Aiwa zvaonekwa Nyamuzihwa,
Tikafira pano wani.
In other regions the females belonging to the Shumba totem are referred to as MaSibanda/MaDhawu/MaShumba.
VaBuja in Mutoko
The vaBuja on their relocation led by Nehoreka in search of better land with accessible water came across Chief Makati a man with powerful charms who was the original occupant of the area and lived near mount Mutemwa. Makati was believed to be the builder of the dry stone walls now known as Mutoko ruins. He ordered Nehoreka and his people, the vaBuja to leave his territory and they returned to Choma. Upon their return, Nehoreka was desperately in need of water for his people and decided to overthrow Makati and settle there were water was plenteous. Nehoreka gave his sister Chingate as wife to Makati as an attempt to find out if he possessed any powers or magical medicines in conflict and war (makona ehondo). Chingate then discovered a calabash (gona) and smuggled it out and fled back to her family. Without the gona, Makati was without powers leading to his defeat and loss of the Kingdom to Nehoreka by the arrows of his magic in a battle fought in Mutemwa resulting in Makati fleeing with his livestock to Monoro where he is said to have entered a rock near Mutoko Centre which is about four kilometers along Nyamapanda road. For several years his footprints were believed to be seen on it together with a hoe that Makati left that is still visible to people with special gifts. The Mutemwa Mountain is believed to be sacred, some of the caves like Ruchera caves are rich in well-preserved rock paintings. Mapatswe was the younger brother of Makati who helped Nehoreka establish his rule over the Makati people. Nehoreka became a powerful ruler in his own right and this is where the name originated from Ndakukoreka, I have tricked you.
After the battle in Mutemwa, the vaBuja settled down in the area until a Portuguese soldier Gouveia (Manoel Antonio de Souza) arrived in the region and commandeered neighboring territories such as: Ngarwe, Mtoko & Chikwizo. The Portuguese were active in the area for centuries. In the 1880’s Gouveia was then surrounded by Mapapwhe/Mapahwe/Mapakwe (Nehoreka’s son) and his soldiers in Mariga, where a large number of Portuguese soldiers were killed by bows and arrows. Gouveia retreated via Umtali now known as Mutare and joined Mangwende who allowed him to settle at Dzimwe. When the vaBuja found this out, they fought another battle where Gouveia was killed and his scrotum cut off and its sac made into a snuff pouch (tsindi). As a result, Mapapwhe occupied the three regions that had been captured by Gouveia. When the British arrived, they had the support of the vaBuja in the fight against Mangwende at Mrewa, Mangwende’s people fled to a mountain called Shombwe but were surrounded and killed. The British took the guns supplied by Gouveia and allowed the vaBuja to keep the ones they captured from the Portuguese. Nehoreka through conquest of other clans became the supreme leader of Mutoko district. Chief Mutoko leader of the vaBuja people signed a concession in favor of the BSAC in 1891 and later realized that they had tied themselves to colonial rule similar to that of the Portuguese that they had fought against in the past decade.
The years from 1885 till the period of independence mark a period when the people of Mutoko fought at different times for political survival. The colonial government put in place political structures that almost paralyzed the traditional structures of the vaBuja chieftaincy. The district and provincial administration, the judicial system, community courts at district offices of the government usurped the powers of traditional chiefs who were previously responsible for trying communal disputes.
The vaBuja struggled with colonial pressure for a long time but were strong enough to fight it. Had it not had been for the signing of the BSAC treaty system, as they were at an advantage of a) their location- it took time for information from Mutoko to reach the authorities and vice versa b) the climate in the region was not favorable for white settlement and the infestation of tsetse fly affected the white men. So for most of the time the chiefs of Mutoko were not pressured for taxes as compared to other chiefs in neighboring regions. The Portuguese failed to establish authority in Mutoko and the British could have equally failed by the way the vaBuja fought against colonial rule and occupation. The traditional weaponry is still used amongst the vaBuja community. Some weapons are still being used through daily life in present day as armaments or for protection, for instance, for quick reaction when commotion is heard in the kraal.
The first vaBuja people in the Mutoko area split into two groups, the first was under Nehoreka living in Mutunya and the second, under Mapaphwe living in Chikona. Nehoreka gave his children medicine to become tribal spirits after their death (mhondoro) but Mapaphwe did not take this medicine. The descendants of Mapaphwe are under the chief Mutoko, who is considered chief of vaBuja. Over the centuries, clans broke away and relocated from the vaBuja group to form their own. Moving south was popular, some moved to present day Hwedza District, led by Magwenjere and lived among the Mbire/Svosve of the tsoko/shoko totem. The original leaders from Mutoko such as Magwendere, Samhiwa and Musakadongo are buried in the Mukamba area of Hwedza. The others proceeded to Svosve areas with Sinamano, Nematukununu and Nezvigaro. Sinamano led the group to Masvingo and settled in Rusvingo under the ruling of Chirichoga/Mumeri/Nemanwa. The group propagated into the totem vaNhinhi after the hill Nhinhihuru. The prominent leader of the group was Chaida the son of Sinamano. The majority however remained in Mutoko and still practice their customs.
Religion and beliefs of the vaBuja
Dzivaguru was a man from another clan with the totem Chikara Sakupa, he came from Choma in Mozambique in the mid-16th century and was considered to be the greatest of all men possessed with powerful medicines (pfuta), he could win wars and he could make a person a tribal spirit (mhondoro) after death. His spirit does not come from the vaBuja who do not clap hands in his honor. However, in Choma, Nehoreka learnt about powerful medicines from him. The vaBuja consult Nehoreka but if he is not forthcoming they seek the aid of Dzivaguru. The high god is known as Chikara and the vaBuja accept his presence but do not pray to him. They have expressions for instance, in the event of death “God has taken him” (chikara chamutora). They do not use the name Mwari.
Nehoreka set himself up as the tribal high priest and rain god. He introduced religious and ritual ceremonies and convinced tribal elders that after his death a woman would be possessed of his spirit. Chief Mutoko nominated a female guardian called Charehwa/Charewa/Chareva of the Tembo totem and is supposed to be an elderly and unmarried woman, to take care of and administer the requirements of Nehoreka with the support from vaDziva. Nehoreka continues to reign over his land (nyika) through the guardianship of his medium, the Charehwa. In times of drought the vaBuja travel to Charehwa, the chiefs homestead, where Nehoreka’s spirit manifests in a spirit medium (svikiro/Wamvura). They ask for rain and it is believed that after the rainmaking ceremony, rain actually falls on the same day or the next day. The chief mediates for rituals of rain and harvest.
The vaBuja people refer to Mutoko ruins as Makati’s former village (Tere RaMakati). This is why they do not recognize them as belonging to the ancestors it is believed to have been built and occupied by Makati. National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe have since taken the custodianship of the site and it is open to the public to learn about the people of Mutoko and the vaBuja origins. Dzimbahwe which is not far from the ruins is valued by the vaBuja where the spirit of Nehoreka is held. There were some cultural practices they still insist on such as choosing people from the community (among the son in laws and grandchildren) who to prepare and clean the Dzimbahwe as they value the place where their ancestors are resting. The people delegated to clean are not allowed to have sexual intercourse with their spouses during this cleansing period. They do not cut trees or cultivate at or around the sacred shrine, they keep the place as is and some of the cultural practices are performed at Dzimbahwe. A special beer called Mukwerera is brewed for the rains and this is done by the elderly women who can no longer conceive and those who are not sexually active. The ruins are located in headman Rutsito’s area. In that area there is a sacred well which is believed to be used by the Mutoko ancestors occasionally. Traditional leaders across the country make use of this well for their healing waters. The vaBuja are known for giving all their visitors drinking water first before they start talking, even when they are not asked for it.
Politics, spirituality and Chieftainships in Mutoko
The spirit of Nehoreka is currently believed to influence vaBuja religious, economic and political events. No chief in Mutoko could rule without the approval of the medium of Nehoreka. The head of the vaBuja dynasty is a chief (Mambo). Chieftaincy rotates from one household to another and is controlled by a hereditary lineage (Imba). The chief is the religious and political leader of vaBuja tribal household. He administers rain rituals, serving as a link between the ancestors and the living. The appointment of the chief involves ancestors and living elders of the ruling households. The tribal spirit medium approves the name of the individual to be enthroned. Tribal politics involve the chief’s council (makurukota), the ancestors of the tribe (mhondoro), ritual friends (sahwira), and some nephews (vazukuru) of the ruling household.
The politics of the vaBuja people involved women in spirit mediumship (svikiro) such as the Nehoreka-Charehwa, who relayed sipritual messages to the living. Other tribal groups in Manicaland and Makonde also included headwomen in their politico-jural authority. The Nehoreka chieftaincy involves a secular political authority vested in a woman as she is the one who chooses in accordance as much with the opinion of the public as ancestral validation, a deceased chief’s successor, and who continues to exercise ultimate power through her communication with the tribal spirits. There are also female village heads who are also involved in traditional courts and help solve disputes amicably.
Post-independence, the chief allocates land, presides over land and social disputes. He is the custodian of communal rights of the vaBuja including land ownership. The chief guards the heritage of the people from foreign aggression by other tribes and also from forces such as witchcraft by speaking strongly against it. He takes the responsibility of enforcing the taboos such as traditional rest days (chisi) of the tribe or incest (makunakuna) is breached to maintain a good relationship with the ancestors. All aspects of the vaBuja traditional religion under the chieftainship such as the chief’s granary (Zunde ra mambo), adjudication of justice and protection of heritage aim to secure and sustain life.
Zunde ra mambo is the chief’s granary, it is a traditional food security programme for a tribal household. This program alleviates hunger and starvation during famine. The vaBuja are not the only tribe that practice this, the Manyika of Eastern Zimbabwe, the Zezuru of Murewa also have the same practice. It involves all people under the chief taking turns to till portions of the chief’s field to fill his granary for food storage with the aim of aiding starving families and orphans. Such a programme encourages community involvement and promotes social unity which empowers the beneficiaries within the community.
Chief Mutoko is the highest authority in the district and immediately below him is the headman (sadunhu) who administers authority at village level. There are several headmen under Chief Mutoko, for instance, headman Nyamukapa and headman Kawere. They all accept and worship Nehoreka as a tribal spirit and they are spiritually under Charehwa his representative. Each headman has a lesser clan spirit with a medium in his wards. Four of them share the same clan spirit and medium. The Mhondoro’s are all descendents of Nehoreka, for example, Nyamhanga (Mhondoro of Nyamukwere ward), Nyazunzu (Kauye’s ward) and Nechimombe (for the Dawa, Kawere, Gote, Rukau areas). There are also kraal heads who report to the headman. The first tribal head was Chief Mutoko, and succession is collateral in the male line of decent. The current is represented by Nathaniel Gurupira, one of the descendants of the original chief of the vaBuja who settled in Mutoko around 16th century.
The vaBuja people are the most law abiding tribes in Mashonaland due to the influence of Nehoreka and Charehwa. They have since revealed the inclusion of women in political authority from the pre-colonial era to present day, proving that women have always been powerful than was formally acknowledged in most literature. Traditional beliefs and practices are still dominant amongst this group as they still sacralize the tribal spirits and consult them in political, social and economic matters.
By Ashey Maganzo
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Source: Bulawayo National Archives of Zimbabwe
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