|Kurova guva: A village ceremony|
|Wednesday, 15 August 2012 00:00|
In August, during Heroes and Defence Forces holidays, we gather in the village to “beat” one or two family graves, kurova makuva, and the ceremony to join the dead person with the ancestral spirits. The “grave beating” ceremonies to honour the ancestors must be done before November, the month of the goat, muna Mbudzi.
Last Saturday, it was my cousin Herija’s grave to be beaten, kurova guva rake.
Herija died 10 years ago and his grave ought to have been beaten a year or at least two years after his death.
Because this ceremony had not been done, Herija’s wife Lucia did not get the opportunity to be inherited by one of Herija’s brothers or cousins.
Lucia stayed in the village caring for her children even though she was still young enough to look for a lover elsewhere.
Ten years is a long time without beating someone’s grave. But this year could not have passed without doing what is right for Herija. Already, Herija was making his wishes known.
Since December last year, Herija had become a ghost, “chipoko”.
We heard that Herija’s ghost was walking around the villages. “Chipoko chaHerija chaifamba,” it was reported.
Sometimes it was just a tall figure in the shape of Herija, walking quietly in the darkness of the night like a shadow.
Then the human form changed into a big shining light, Zimiimi, Zigoritoto.
Nobody walked near Herija’s grave at night anymore.
The ghost came from the grave and walked all the way to the jacaranda trees near the Catholic Church at the school. Then the ghost knelt and prayed near the open place where Herija used to hold his Apostolic church services. One time Headmaster Dzikiti at St Columbus School saw the ghost preaching to imaginary people in the ruins of the Anglican Church.
Headmaster Dzikiti also said Herija’s ghost climbed roofless school buildings, entered the empty grinding mill house, tried to draw water at the old broken bush pump, pachibhorani, before walking back to his grave near the muunze trees.
When Headmaster Dzikiti spoke, he kept on wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. “When a spirit is troubled, it will wonder around until it is appeased and finds peace. Herija is a lost soul,” Headmaster Dzikiti said, tears pouring out of his eyes.
He was not crying. Some people have tears when they talk about ghosts. I do, too.
Although I have never seen one, stories of ghosts have that effect on me — a mixture of fear and a strange excitement of the supernatural.
My cousin Dhiriza and the other elders went to the diviner to ask why Herija was up and about when he really was supposed to be dead and living happily in heaven.
The diviner said Herija came back as a ghost because he wanted ancestral recognition. Herija was demanding that we beat his grave and unite his wondering spirit with the family line of ancestors.
Without the ceremony, Herija’s ghost would forever haunt the villages late at night. The diviner said it was not right that Herija, a father of six children, should have his spirit forgotten as if he never left seeds on this earth.
But whose fault was that? We asked Dhiriza and the others when they came back from the diviner.
A few years before Herija died, he left the Catholic Church and joined the Apostolic Faith, mapostori.
He was the leader of the local branch.
His congregation met on Saturday afternoon under the tree next to the Catholic Church on St Columbus School grounds, where he now walked as a ghost.
Herija used to say “kurova guva” was a primitive ceremony.
It contradicted God’s Commandment.
He said that after his death there would be no pagan rituals to reconcile his ancestral spirit with those who died before him or with the living. No dancing, no sacrificial bulls, goats or chickens to honour and remember his name. No beer drinking or drumming either.
Herija said his spirit would be well looked after in the kingdom of God.
One time Dhiriza took Herija aside and said, “Mira unzwe, Mukoma, listen, my brother, we did not hear of the Ten Commandments for the first time from the white missionaries. We always had our own rules.”
Dhiriza explained that our rules were not written but we knew them from generation to generation.
What was so new about respecting your father and mother, “kukudza mai vako na baba?”
What was so new about the rule not to steal, or not to kill, or not to covet your neighbour’s wife?
The Bible simply complemented the rules we already had.
We should not forget everything about our own religion, our own codes of behaviour and embrace everything Christianity has brought.
Dhiriza repeated this speech to Herija many times, but Herija did not listen.
Now that Herija was back as a ghost to ask for reconciliation with the ancestors, we were going to respect his wishes.
So last Saturday afternoon we all gathered at Lucia’s hut to complete the preparations for the kurova guva ceremony.
Quantities of millet beer brewed over seven days formed huge froths spilling to the sides of clay pots.
One group of daughters-in-law cooked, fetched water and washed dishes, while the other group weeded and swept the footpath from the village compound all the way to Herija’s grave. Then some varoora sat on the footpath between the grave and the village refusing to move until they were given money or a full goat.
A whole ox was killed and there were three big pots of meat and one big drum of cooked cabbages.
Dhiriza and some men with big muscles stirred a big drum full of sadza.
While we ate, drums were warmed around the fire.
A six-man team of mbira players from Lucia’s maiden village across the Save River arrived just before dark. Inside Lucia’s hut, there was a pot of beer sealed with mud. It was the sacred pot with beer, “hari yedziva”, the river pot, carrying Herija’s spirit.
As Herija’s oldest sister, Tete Mai Tichafa looked after the sealed pot. It was not to be left alone in case the witches interfered with the beer causing a disturbance to Herija’s home coming. When enough beer had been drunk, sadza and meat eaten, people started coming into the hut.
Then the drumming and singing started.
Men were on one side of the hut and women on the other. We met on the dance floor in the middle. This went on until midnight. Then there was an order from one elder to stop the drum beat and allow the mbira and hosho players to take over the floor. They sang “Mbavarira woye woye woye” and “Nyuchi dzandiruma”, which are songs of the past.
One woman from Lucia’s village led most of the old songs and other voices repeated after her.
When she started the song, “Ndega ndega kumandenga” (I am on my own in the scary jungle) we all stamped and moved in polyrhythmic style, and the tempo got higher and faster.
Whirling, shuffling steps in short movements, moving feet, shoulders and hips. With smooth fluidity, we moved like there were no bones left in us. The whole atmosphere was sober and heavy. There was a certain spiritual presence among us.
Soon after dawn, Mbuya VaChiseko said the mbira and hosho should now stop. Three new drummers came in and stood close together. They began to beat the drum in slow motions. Mbuya VaChiseko sang “Mbavarira woye woye.”
We danced slowly. Then she ordered us to leave the hut in single file.
Outside, the eastern sky was red and it was almost sunrise. Mai Kundi, the most senior muroora, carried a pot of beer and led the way to Herija’s grave.
The other varoora swept the path for the procession.
We sang and followed Mai Kundi and the drummer in single file. In the cool morning sunrise, we surrounded Herija’s grave. Varoora danced on the grave with joy, calling Herija to return home. Then Mai Kundi straddled the grave and passed a gourd of frothy beer around. Each person took one or two big gulps of beer then poured the rest onto Herija’s grave.
Varoora shouted, “There, Mupositori Herija, here, drink this beer! Chipoko, stop bothering us. It was your choice to choose Jesus. “Ndiwe wakada Jesu wega. We do not want to see your ghost anymore! Usatinetse nechipoko chako!”
Some people threw some money on to the grave and varoora scrambled to collect it. Ignoring varoora’s bantering, the elders called upon Herija’s name, summoning his spirit to stop wandering in the bush and come back home to protect us.
The grave was awash with beer, some of it covering the Biblical verse engraved on the granite apron.
We sang more and others danced on the grave, clapping with joy. As the sun continued to rise over the hazy hills, we made a single file going back to Lucia’s hut singing “Changamire Mudzimu dzoka” (Chief ancestor spirit come back home).
Herija’s spirit was coming home with us.
Back in the hut, Tete Mai Tichafa removed the mud seal from the clay pot. A gourd of beer was offered to various relatives from Lucia’s family, vanatezvara, calling them by their totems. Then Tete Mai Tichafa’s husband, mukuwasha, brought in a goat and offered it to the elders as a gift to welcome Herija’s spirit. The goat was taken outside and killed immediately.
Its liver was roasted and eaten without salt.
Then Tete and the other elders opened hari yedziva — the sealed pot from the rivers. They passed the gourd of beer around. We all took a sip from it and ate salt-less roasted goat’s liver. After morning tea with lots of bread, white rice and sweet potatoes, a mat was spread out in the middle of the courtyard.
It was time to test if Lucia had not slept with anyone else since Herija’s death 10 years ago. A good woman did not dishonour her husband’s spirit by bedding another before kurova guva is done.
Tichafa, Tete Mai Tichafa’s son and the most senior grandson around, placed Herija’s walking stick, axe and spear on the mat.
Lucia must show her faithfulness to Herija by jumping over the weapons. If she knew that she had slept with a man before the kurova guva, Lucia should not jump.
Her close relatives took her aside and warned her not to take any chances because Herija’s spirit would know the exact name and totem of the man she had slept with. If she lied, Lucia was going to fall.
Such a fall would be a tragic humiliation to Lucia and her family. Lucia lifted her skirt a little above her knees, showing the brown part of her legs and prepared to jump. With her eyes focused on the weapons, Lucia slowly stepped on the mat. Then she proudly walked over the weapons with such ease, like this was nothing at all. We all wandered if Lucia was really that clean.
Would Herija’s spirit know everything?
As Herija’s sisters, we were just like her husbands.
She forced us to shelve our doubts and accept the verdict. So we also clapped and celebrated Lucia’s 10 years of celibacy. Let Herija speak for himself.
Then she gave her 17-year-old son Herija’s walking stick, axe and spear, making him her “husband”. There were some rumblings of complaints from Dhiriza and the cousins, but Tete Mai Tichafa and some of us said Lucia was right. She was too old to be anyone’s second wife. Besides, wife inheritance did not work as well as it used to do.
Tete covered Lucia’s son with a white cloth as he held his father’s weapons. The new Herija.
We ululated and danced to welcome Herija’s spirit back to the family. Herija’s ghost will not be seen any more. His spirit is at peace back here in the village and hopefully, in heaven as well.
l Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic. She holds a PhD in International Relations and is a consultant and director of The Simukai Development Project.