Isdore Guvamombe Reflections
Back in the village in the land of milk, honey and dust, the spirit medium Nyanhewe’s sacred shrine was perched on a rock promontory, exuding an air that was eerie and profound.
People came to consult in droves, by car, on foot and wheelchair-bound, others came by ox-drawn or donkey-drawn cart, others on bicycles. For lack of diction, they came anyhow.
There, the main officiant, affectionately known by the medium’s followers as Nzou – a sobriquet given to him after his totem Nzou Samanyanga, the elephant. In the spiritual realm of the African tradition, the main officiant is also possessed with a junior spirit.
The medium, himself, a young man who got possessed by the spirit of Nyatsimba Mutota’s son Nyanhewe aka Chitewe, a few moons after sitting for his Zimsec Ordinary Level Examinations, stayed on a flat land on the valley below, surrounded by a chain of peeping mountains and chattering rivers.
A few moons ago, daring church-goers climbed up the shrine, and built makeshift grass-thatched mud-and-pole huts, which was tantamount to deflowering the sacredness.
Possessed and in trance Nzou set fire on the three makeshift churches, sparking a row with church-goers, who in the first place had been the harbingers of trouble. Not that this villager supports the destruction of people’s property but neither will he support the deflowering of other religions’ shrines. But what followed is the input of this instalment.
The church leaders, despite being the provocateurs, were quick to report to Makande Police Station, and thereafter Nzou was arrested with the dexterity of an eagle’s swoop and transported to Karoi Magistrates’ Courts.
In court, the trouble started when Nzou went into a trance and the magistrate immediately ordered that he be subjected to a psychiatrist to determine his mental status. Meanwhile, he is remanded in custody.
At the psychiatric hospital he goes into a trance again and becomes possessed. The psychiatrist deems him mentally ill. Using that report, Nzou is further remanded in custody and condemned to a psychiatric unit.
But back in the village everyone knows Nzou is very normal and that once in a while he is possessed. Everyone except the church leaders lose faith in the judiciary system. The man is just normal but intermittently gets possessed by the spirit. The villager now thinks the judiciary favours the churches.
The villagers have questions why an independent Zimbabwe, whose liberation struggle was fronted by spirit mediums and not churches, is so insensitive to spirit mediums. When will the judiciary system accept that there are people who are possessed in this country?
The old argument has been that a judiciary officer cannot invite the spirit to possess in court and then answer questions. The argument is always told, “At point of law” things happen this way.
There is certainly a vast difference between a mad man and a man possessed by spirits. It is akin to saying spirit mediums are mentally ill people.
It is a sad reality back in the village that the majority of Zimbabweans, while delving in ‘churchianity’, still believe in spirit mediums and consult them. Our judiciary system must certainly consider societal norms and beliefs and find a way of dealing with them in a manner that makes jurisprudence both legally and socially acceptable.
Ex-combatants will testify how much they consulted the spirit mediums and how much faith they had in them in the execution of the war of liberation. Today, we look down upon them, deflower them, deride them, provoke them and condemn them to psychiatric units on the pretext that they are mad people. My foot!
I wish Chinua Achebe was still alive, was it not Obierika Okonkwo, who asked in “Things Falls Apart”: “If a man comes and defecates in your house what do you do? You break his neck!”
Nzou’s story is true. He remains in custody as a psychiatric patient. Obviously a court is a strange place for a spirit medium and they are bound to be shocked and enraged, hence possession. Hospital is a worse place, the smell of pills, medication and modern medical equipment is bound to annoy and enrage. Nzou is not a mad man. He is a spirit medium.