Village celebrations

Dr Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday
Welcome to a rainy Independence Day celebration reporting directly from our kitchen hut right here on the foothills of the Hwedza mountains along Save River. Thirty-five years ago, we were here, in this same place just after the liberation war. My mother’s beer was frothing and intoxicating, the elders were dancing, playing hosho, pen whistle, chipendani, drums and mbira. The war was over and independence was here.

Across the two rivers, you can see, right on the horizon, a huge granite rock jutting its big head into the sky. That place is called Chinyamungororo Heroes’ Acre.

Many liberation fighters died there and they say a few white soldiers too.

But the white soldiers were quickly taken away and given a burial elsewhere. That was the war. In those days, we were young with little education and no job prospects. Still, it was Independence Day and we were now free. For the first time, adults around here had lined up to get identification certificates, zvitupa.

Because they could not write, they used their thumbs to vote.

Thirty-five years later, we are gathered here in the kitchen hut, to remember and celebrate the thumbs and the pens that voted for freedom. Outside, there is a slow continuous drizzle, mubvumbi. Such rain is unusual this time of the year. More than a month ago, every adult in our village and in many other villages, paid $2 contribution towards buying a big beast that was to be slaughtered on the 18th of April to celebrate Independence Day. But we are not going to leave the kitchen hut. We have been sitting around this fire since 8am hoping the rain would go away and we would go jump in the truck and travel the 15 kilometres to Heroes’ Acre for the independence celebrations. The rain is jealous.

We have a hut full of people who have failed to walk to Chinyamungororo for the Independence Day celebration. Our gate is always open and so is my mother’s kitchen hut. When we were growing up here, it was rare to drink tea with corn bread or sweet potatoes or real bread alone without a visitor. Nothing has changed, especially on a wet Independence remembrance day like this. On the fire, we are smoking meat that I bought on the way from Harare.

Next to the fire is the black kettle covered in soot. It has been boiling many cups of tea for everyone who arrives. It fills like Christmas or the old days when we all ate together during Rhodes and Founders day holidays.

So far, we have made tea five times and served 14 people. Mupositori Sameri who came in first this morning sits next to my cousin Piri on the bench. Piri is not embarrassed to drink beer sitting so close to Mupositori Sameri, a man of God and a leader of the Apostolic Faith situated on the foot hills of the mountains only a few kilometres from us.

Mupositori Sameri walked in with Mai Hagar, his third wife. I know her very well because she is responsible for building the chidziro, or kitchen shelves made of black ocher where we display our plates.

Soon as Mai Hagar walked in, she hugged me and gave me her back so I could take the healthy six-month-old Hagar from her back.

She handed the laughing baby to me while Mupositori Sameri sat on the bench next to the men and Piri. Mupositori Sameri is on his fourth mug of sweet tea and his fourth slice of brown bread with jam and margarine.

Our neighbour Jemba is here too. He had walked in from the slow drizzling rain wearing his father’s old brown Mudhibhisi coat and a big plastic bag over his bald head. He sits on a stool next to the fire. On one side of the kitchen hut are four young women including Mai Hagar. These women have married into our extended family. As usual Jemba keeps rolling his tobacco in an old newspaper. He is listening, saying nothing for a while because he is busy diluting Mazowe orange cordial with water and then adding clear 40 percent alcohol content vodka to his mix to make a cocktail.

Jemba will not stop complaining that the rain has denied him the opportunity to eat as much meat as he wanted. His $2 to the independence celebration party contribution has gone for nothing because those who live near the Heroes’ acre will still kill the beast, cook and roast it despite the heavy rain. Then they will share the pieces of meat and take some home.

Jemba tells us that many years ago, over on Maware flat rocks, they used to kill two beasts at Independence Day celebrations. In those days, the Member of Parliament paid for the two beasts. But allowing people to simply receive from the MP or the chiefs caused dependency. Even when times are hard like now, you hear some people say, “The chief must donate a big live beast.” The chief has been telling everyone to stop looking to donors or Government for help all the time.

We must learn to help ourselves the way we used to do before the NGOs came.

Then Jemba points to Mupositori Sameri and praises him for setting a good example of self sufficiency. “Humba, we never see you queuing for food when the donors come. You and your four wives eat what you grow. That is the way it should be.” Mupositori Sameri smiles and pours his fifth cup of tea. He adds five teaspoonfuls of sugar and stirs.

“But having such wives who have only seen the door to the classroom for less than seven years denies the girls opportunity for education,” says Piri. We all look at each other thinking, oh no, Piri wants to talk about the taboo. Child marriages happen in several villages around here within the church. People say Mai Hagar came to live with her husband when she was 12.

The other senior wives looked after her.

When she was “of age” she became a wife and got pregnant. She lost the first two babies at birth. She is no more than 19-years-old now.

“Were you really old enough to have your first baby?” Piri asks Mai Hagar, laughing, like it was very funny. But I know she is not laughing at all. These girls become wives and mothers when they are very young and even below the age of consent. Mupositori remains calm and very composed, sipping his tea.

I calculate that he is only 32, since he had said earlier that he was born three years after independence and knows nothing of the war. At his young age, he already has four wives and eight children, a few of them dead at birth or later because it is against the rules of the church to get the babies immunised.

After a long pause, Mupositori says, “The tradition of polygamy has been with us since time immemorial. It is not going to stop now.”

Jemba then stands up, grabs a piece of burning twig from the fire and lights his cigarette. “Baba Samuel, keep your wives. Some people say ‘Do not marry the girls. Let them go to school.’ To do what?”

I then try to argue that with education, the girls have better opportunities in life. The girls can end up doing teaching, nursing or choose a profession of their choice. “You are going too far,” Jemba interrupts me. “Where do they get the money to go to Form One? Who will pay for their school fees when a family cannot afford $1 for the grinding mill? Leave them alone. These girls are safe and secure. Besides, polygamy is all about sharing. Who wants a husband all day every day 24 hours a day the way Europeans do?” Everyone laughs, including Mai Hagar.

Then Piri leans over towards the fire to turn one side of her maize cob so the other side can be roasted too. She blows the fire and a flame comes alive. “You are right Moyondizvo, a man and woman should not always be together every day and every night.” Murume nemukadzi vasagare vese zuva nezuva.

My brother Sydney puts on his teacher’s voice and explains that back in the days long before the white man colonised us, men went to hunt for days and brought back wild game meat. They also went to war and some of them never came back. The men who went to the gold mines in Johannesburg were gone for years. And yet, the wives stayed and did not moan or complain about loneliness. Marriage was not for two people. It was for the community. Mapositori are using the old African traditions and those of the Old Testament to practise polygamy.

Mupositori Sameri claps and says, “Sekuru Sidney was my teacher at St Columbus School. I know he is against polygamy because he is a Catholic. But I thank God for the opportunity to sit here on Independence Day celebration. God said, let it rain so people can stay, talk and learn something new.” Everyone claps and there is a lot of joking and laughing.

Independence Day celebration will come back again next year. And we shall sit in the same smoky kitchen hut and treasure the memories of the pain and the joy of how independence was won.

Dr Sekai Nzenza and is an independent writer and cultural critic.