Kundai Marunya Lifestyle Writer
She takes out a small container made from the uppermost part of a cow horn (nhekwe), removes the leathery closing, and shakes the contents into her left palm.
A brownish powder comes out.
With her thumb and foremost finger, she deposits the powder into her nose, inhales it, holds her breath for a few seconds, then a thunderous sneeze comes out, then another.
What’s left in her palm is inhaled straight from the hand, this time a mild sneeze comes out. In an instant, her eyes turn red, she sighs and lets out a smile of satisfaction.
This has become the life of one young woman who believes she is possessed by njuzu (marine/mermaid spirit), and bute has become her lifeline.
“I started sniffing bute after Madzibaba (prophet) told me I had a mermaid spirit which attracts wealth,” said the 22-year-old lady who preferred anonymity.
“Bute calms me down and serves as a way of paying tribute to the mermaid in me.”
She is one of many young women who are increasingly being initiated into sniffing bute, believing they have mermaid spirits which attract wealth and men.
“Bute comes as part of our initiation process, which includes being showered with rice and wine and being bathed under a waterfall,” she said.
“Since my initiation, I was told to sniff regularly.”
Since time immemorial, many have used bute for different traditional ceremonies, not necessarily those with mermaid spirits but spirit mediums and traditional healers.
It is used when worshipping in the traditional Shona culture. Some use it to wand off evil spirits, others to call on their ancestors for blessings, while some use it to conjure various spirits in the celestial realm.
Traditionalist Chikonzero Chazunguza, who is the guardian of Sekuru Mushore’s shrine, a fallen spirit medium, said bute is used to communicate worries and trouble to the spiritual realm.
“We use bute to communicate our worries to the spiritual realm so that our ancestors can relay our message to the creator,” he said.
“It also calms one down and acts as our GPS (global positioning system) for spirit mediums.”
Chazunguza said the rise in bute use is a revival of culture and tradition.
“What I noticed in life is that culture and tradition don’t just die down,” he said.
“There can be a certain generation that turns their backs on tradition, but then these cultures and tradition will find their way back in our lives through future generations.”
Commenting on the increased use of bute by young people, Chazunguza said the spirits direct them in the act.
“You must understand that sniffing bute is not necessarily a choice for youngsters, but a spiritual call which means as a people we are reaching another level of spirituality,” he said.
Chazunguza’s sentiments are true to some youngsters who sniff bute in an attempt to stay in touch with traditions they were never taught in their childhood.
This is a serious attempt to preserve culture.
“I’ve been sniffing bute for the past 15 years,” said 27-year-old visual artist Option Nyahunzvi.
“I started sniffing after observing my grandmother doing it and to me it’s all about following a tradition.”
Nyahunzvi said bute is not addictive.
“I do crave it sometimes, but I cannot say it’s addictive since it’s organic unlike general tobacco,” he said.
Traditional bute, also known as jambwa, does not come from modern tobacco. It is farmed mostly on river beds, on silt deposits when water levels decrease. It does not require any chemical fertilisers to grow, thus it’s purely organic.
Jambwa’s preparations include boiling in clay pots, mixing it with oils from acacia tree. Commercialisation has driven mass production of bute from modern crops like virginia and barley tobacco.
Virginia is flu-cured in bans, while barley is air-cured (hanged to dry).
From virginia, stalks are used to make bute while the leafy parts are used for barley.
For barley, bute makers favour the bottom most leaves which have a high nicotine concentration.
Nicotine found in commercial tobacco makes it addictive and can cause health complications such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
According to health website www.hopkinsmedicine.org; “More than 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been found in smokeless tobacco.”
Whatever the reasons maybe, bute seems to be fashionable among young people.
Those who used to shun it, associating it with evilness are readily accepting it for the tobacco it is. The acceptance of bute among young people is a clear indication of embracing a culture that had slowly died down.
One can only wonder, what’s next after bute?