My cousin Tamuka sat with his knees folded in front of Mudzimumitatu and spat out the brownish liquid he had been instructed to drink. All the five elders of the village and Musafare; a close friend of Mukoma Zorodzai, congregated in the small thatched hut with the intention of finding out what had caused the sudden death. The men sat quietly and observed Mudzimumitatu cast his lots in front of Tamuka who now sat stone-faced with his head down. I was only allowed to the rite to help Sekuru mobilise, as age had begun to shake hands with his eyesight. Mudzimumitatu the n’anga, was known for his witch hunt expertise and reversing curses all over the villages. He was the one to go to if one wanted a husband, if one wanted to get rid of a husband or if one wanted someone’s husband. He is the reason why I am able to narrate and fully describe what I saw, as he is the one at the helm of restoring my eyesight due to my albinism. He began to lament something in a language which was not amongst the six languages common in the village. The men all sat motionless, gawking at him.
He took a swig from the large clay pot he held in his hands, the same clay pot from which he had instructed Tamuka to drink from. Mudzimumitatu began to dance in a ritualistic style circling Tamuka, as his sidekick, Mhinduro began to clap his hands chanting, huyai, svikai, taurai repeatedly as he sat with his head between his knees. The elders joined in and began to clap and chant in unison. He would dip low and jump so high I thought he would go through the thatched roof. He would circle around Tamuka and stroked him with his staff which had tassels and fur with a golden brown hue. He took another swig and spat at Tamuka and stood behind him. Each swig was met with vigorous claps and louder chanting.
I clapped in unison, not out of awareness of what I was witnessing but out of fear of Sekuru sending me outside to run errands for the women who were in the cooking hut. I made sure I was not to make noise or any sudden movements as Sekuru would see it as a sign of disrespect of the spirits and the importance of the event at hand. The traditional healer raised his right hand, beckoning us to stop chanting and clapping. He took a few steps and knelt in front of Tamuka and held his head in his hands.
” Taura, before the turmoiled spirit of your brother undertakes its own justice. Confess my son.”, he said now in shona. Sekuru slowly nodded his head, as much as he was as blind as a bat; his hearing was still very sharp. Tamuka said nothing with his eyes fixated on Mudzimumitatu, tears brimming in his eyes. He no longer looked like the tall and strong fourteen-year-old who taught me how to make herbal sunscreen for my dry patched skin. We would race each other the long distance to the Growth Point to buy a small Vaseline and on our way back, we would pick the various ingredients in the small forest near the compound. As he sat in front of us, he looked shrunken and helpless.
“Are you sure you have nothing else to confess aside from what you have told the congregation?”, he continued, still holding Tamuka’s head. Tamuka uttered a yes and tried to look down again, but Mudzimumitatu could not let him. He began to make a roaring sound which sounded animated but after a while sounded as real as that of the king of the jungle. It was said to be one of the three spirits that possessed him; shumba introduced himself with a roar and the host’s body would have a menacing facial expression, his body rigidly standing at attention; feet apart, arms hanging and his palms in fist formation. The shumba spirit was known for being stern and interrogatory, leaving its prey on its hands and knees begging for mercy.
Legend has it if angered or deceived; the shumba spirit will ask the sabhuku to have all the elders in the village bring beer made from finger millet to sabhuku’s hozi. Each morning for three consecutive days, Mudzimumitatu will sit at the door of the accused before sunrise and lament to the spirit of the dead to reveal themselves in the house of the accused. A few moons ago, in Hwedza the village east of ours, a woman who was accused of permanently disposing of her newborn children, was asked to confess why all her children died within three weeks of being born. Rumour has it, it was because she wanted constant attention and sympathy from people as her husband worked in Harare and would only come home four times a year. She would always claim she was cursed or unlucky because even after being prayed for by prophets and pastors or being to the traditional healers, all her six children died, at birth or a few weeks after. For the ones that die at birth, I once heard Mai Kwayedza, the village midwife, tell Sekuru that during birth, she would close her legs when the head was out. On the third day in this particular case, Mudzimumitatu had the village crier summon the whole village to the cemetery where they found the woman with five small skeletons carefully placed next to her as if they were asleep, holding a small rotting corpse, which she was trying to nurse.
The shumba spirit huffed and puffed around Tamuka, he asked him to stand and face the west and call Mkoma Zorodzai’s name. Tamuka implemented as instructed. He was told to narrate his story again as he faced the wall. Mhinduro began to take out different objects from Mudzimumitatu’s nhava. Some of the objects looked very strange, there was an object that looked like Sekuru’s nhekwe but it was big and was wrapped around with snakeskin. He unwrapped it and placed a small carving of a snake and positioning it behind Tamuka. My cousin began to narrate the story of how Mukoma Zorodzai was found dead in the Bottle Store after Tamuka had taken his mbuva for that day.
It was last week Friday when Maiguru gave Tamuka Mukoma Zorodzai’s mbuva to take to him at the Growth Point where he spent most of the afternoon playing njuga. It had been Mukoma Zorodzai’s birthday, and to celebrate Maiguru had killed him the last hen on the compound. I remember Tamuka telling me he had been annoyed by this because he had planned to take Sekuru’s cockerel and have it mate with the hen. He recounted how Maiguru instructed him to take it straight to him and not pass through our compound as he always did. She had warned him to deliver the food whilst it was still hot or else Mukoma Zorodzai would be in one of his moods when he came back. He recalled how Maiguru had a black eye and busted lip, evident of the row they had last night as every other night. He had told me he had heard muffled screams and hollow diii diii from his gota. Tamuka confessed that on his way, he had only taken a few minutes off course into the forest to look for matohwe as they were in season. He said as he was walking back to the road, he came across a herb that was a perfect remedy for man’a. The herb would be crushed, mix with water and with just a smidgen of the venom of a chivi. He had learnt all this from his father, who he shared with Mukoma Zorodzai but with different mothers. He said after picking the herb, he stuffed it in his pocket and proceeded to go to the Growth Point. He reported he did not recollect touching the food with his hands knowing how poisonous the herb was, but he remembered shaking hands with Mukoma Zorodzai.
As soon as he confessed this, sneers and hollers broke the silence. Everyone knew Zorodzai never washed his hands. That is why at every gathering, he was always given his own plate. People had made him believe it was because he was well respected amongst the men, but it was solely because of his habit of licking his fingers with every bite and never washing his hands before his meals. It was only a matter of time until his quirk caught up with him. The unfortunate part was Tamuka being inculpated of it.
Tamuka began to cry facing the wall, I wanted to go over to him and comfort him but I knew better. Mhinduro raised his right hand, commanding silence in the room. Mudzimumitatu was, at this moment, sitting on the floor with his knees folded and head down. He uttered a strange noise and within a few seconds, he was hissing. I do not want to believe what I saw, but I know what I saw. His skin began to shimmer and took a darker hue. He began thrusting his tongue in and out of his mouth like how a snake darts its tongue in and out. Mhinduro instructed all of us to cover our heads and to shield our eyes. Out of curiosity, which I now regret, I saw him lying on the floor and began to slither the way a snake does around Tamuka. His sidekick launched a dead rat which I think he had taken from his nhava and threw it towards the traditional healer. Just like a snake, he leapt and clutched the rat whilst still mid-air. I saw him swallow it whole and reposed on the floor. Mhinduro began the chant and rhythmic clap again and we all joined in. He darted his eyes at me but I quickly looked away.
“ Zvakanaka mwanangu. All is well. I know my children very well and soon you shall see their true colours. I, their mother have spoken. You shall see them by their fangs, their scaled skin and their deceitful ways.”, a croaky, female voice spoke. I could not see a woman but when I glanced at Mudzimumitatu, his lips were moving simultaneously. I involuntarily jounced with fear, my eyes and ears could not fathom what I was witnessing. Sekuru, turned towards me, reached for my ear and pulled it hard enough I could feel blood well up. He did not say anything to me but I clearly knew what he meant. I sat up properly and paid attention to the event at hand, slowly rubbing my ear. Mhinduro took out another small container from his nhava, this one was covered in crocodile skin with a string that appeared to have teeth attached to it. He unwrapped it and took out a small carving of a crocodile. He summoned us to start the chant again, louder and with vigour. This time around he did not instruct us to look away. Still lying on the floor, Mudzimumitatu stretched his legs and arms away from his body and slightly lifted himself off the floor. He resembled the posture of a crocodile, but his scraggy figure did not do him justice. His mhapa and shashiko were coming undone due to his action-packed ritual, I quickly looked away as his male member was beginning to show as he began to belly crawl around the room. His eyes were blinking rhythmically and with each blink, the colour of his eyes appeared to be change. Tamuka was still stood facing the wall, he had stopped crying but I could sense his fear from where I was sitting.
Mudzimumitatu let out a loud hiss which caught Sekuru off guard, almost toppling him over from the stool he sat on. I quickly helped him up and went back to my designated seat. We were ordered to be silent. Mhinduro began to sprinkle the liquid that was in the clay pot on Mudzimumitatu. He began to huff and puff, his sidekick sprinkling the liquid gyrating him. ” Why do you summon me when the one before me has revealed the truth?”, his voice thundered across the room. It was no longer the brittle voice that had alarmed me earlier. ” Munondinyaudzirei! I am of the water, return me to the water where I belong”. The elders looked at each other and then at Tamuka. He still seemed as himself and there was nothing out of the ordinary. Was it a hoax? Had Mudzimumitatu now lost his touch? They all began to mumble and grumble amongst themselves. Had they been cooped up in this small hovel for nothing? Mhinduro began to pack their belongings, Mudzimumitatu sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, perspiring and drinking from one of the clay pots filled with water. He no longer looked as menacing as before, his skinny legs were stretched out as he gulped down the water.
” Pangu ndapedza. As you have heard the spirit say. If you may guide Mhinduro to your kraal to fetch my cattle, I would very much appreciate it.”, he suggested, getting up to leave. The elders scratched and shook there heads, loss for words, but afraid to say anything as they feared being cursed. ” Ah varume, what is th-“, Musafare was cut mid-sentence by a loud wail that came from the direction of the kitchen. All the men scrambled out of the hozi to investigate.
” Mwari wangu, Mai Pamidzai kani! Yuwi, heano mashura!”, Mai Kwayedza cried as she ran towards the men. As soon as she approached them, she fainted. Behind her, Kwayedza was not far behind, terror plastered on her face. Musafare ran towards and held her before she collapsed. He interrogated her as she lay limp in his arms.
” What is it? Speak, chii chaitika?”, he asked.
” Mai Pamidzai, she tur-.”
” You mean Zorodzai’s wife? Is it? What happened? Iwe taur-“, he asked, vigorously shaking her so she could stay conscious.
” Vawira musadz-, she fell into the pot of sadza.”, she reported, tears running down her face.
The elders all looked at each other, confused and getting annoyed. These women always made everything dramatic. Mai Kwayedza was still on the ground, motionless and no one attending to her.
” What are you saying? Asi wakupenga? Are you going mad?”, Musafare barked at her. I stood next to Sekuru who listened attentively. Tamuka had now joined us but stood from a distance.
” Mai Pamidzai was cooking sadza a-and as she was mixing the sadza in the big pot, s-she just fell in. I think it was her, I do not know.”, she began to cry, trying to free herself from Musafare’s grip.
” Iwe taura, she fell into the pot? Did you help her out?”
” Y-yes, but instead of her, w-we found a snake.”
At that, the elders hurried over to the kitchen, they could hear the clamour of women and children, shouting and crying. I stayed behind with Sekuru who reached over to Tamuka and held him close.
” My job here is done.”, Mudzimumitatu said as he herded four cattle out of the compound, Mhinduro following not far behind him with his nhava.