Flora Fadzai Sibanda, Feature
DRUMS play rhythmically in the background while sweet voices are heard in chorus.
Feet stomp on the ground like those of young maidens who are still full of life and energy as they wait for the traditional beer to brew.
But the maidens who are near the pot brewing the traditional beer are only young in spirit but old in flesh.
They are deemed to be pure as they no longer engage in sexual activities.
Old women are the ones responsible for brewing the beer as a sign of respect to the rainmaker. It is assumed women in this age group no longer engage in sexual intercourse, which might anger the rainmaker if one brews the beer after engaging in sexual activities.
These women brew beer that is supposed to welcome amahosana home from sacred shrines where people ask for rain.
Amahosana are the chosen people who go to sacred shrines like Njelele to ask for rain and thank the rainmaker for the previous season.
Mr Lindi Dube, a traditionalist from Mbembesi says this practice helps to preserve the environment as heavy rains mean the environment does not suffer.
“In Ndebele culture, women who are no longer sexually active and have stopped ‘going to the moon’ which young girls call menstruation are the ones who prepare traditional beer for the ceremony. These women are chosen because they are believed to be pure and in order to prepare traditional beer that will be used on such an important occasion one has to be pure. This helps to preserve the environment. It is believed if the beer is prepared by a woman who is not pure, the rain will either not come or if it does it will destroy vegetation,” said Mr Dube.
He said cultural rainmaking ceremonies have always worked hand in hand with preserving the environment although people do not always see it.
“When people are preparing for the rainmaking ceremony, they do a modern day clean up campaign. People go around removing any dirt from the environment. These range from cloths lying on the trees, bones lying idle or trees that were struck by lightning.
By removing all of this, it is believed the rainmaker will not produce rain, which might be disastrous. This keeps the environment clean as people fear putting the same dirt that was removed as it is believed the rainmaker will cause havoc for you during the rainy season,” said the traditionalist.
Another traditionalist, Mr David Ngwenya said the ash of trees that would’ve been struck by lightning can be used as fertiliser.
“The trees that were struck by lightning are burnt as it is believed it is bad luck to put the wood to any other use. After burning them, the ash is left where the tree was burnt and it is scattered by the wind. The ash works as a fertiliser as it scatters to the fields.
This conserves the environment and keeps the vegetation green. The ash also helps to kill insects that might be a threat to plants. Without the ash, a lot of crops could get destroyed,” said Mr Ngwenya.
He said respecting the cultures around rainmaking also helps to reduce deforestation.
“We all know there are some places like Njelele that are highly respected and conserved because of their status of belonging to the rainmaker.
People know better than to cut any trees that are believed to be part of the shrines. Long back, it is believed even the fruits from those trees would not be eaten by just a nobody as they were reserved for wild animals.
This reduces deforestation and creates a balance in the ecosystem as animals also get food to eat. Another practice that promotes balance in the ecosystem is preserving the first fruits for wild animals.
The first fruits that are harvested are all taken to an agreed location. From there, old women who are no longer sexually active would take the fruits deep into the veld. It was a way of providing food for animals so that they do not end up failing to get food,” Mr Ngwenya said.
A villager from Jikamkhonto Village, Matobo District, who could only be identified as Baba Moyo said there are some sacred days when people are not allowed to go to the field.
“There are some days like Wednesday whereby people are not allowed to go and work at the field. It is believed there was once a powerful herbalist who used to mix herbs that were used during the ceremonies. This person is said to have passed on and was buried on a Wednesday.
That is why Wednesdays are kept sacred. Some believe Thursday is the sacred day as people usually mourn for their loved ones on Thursdays,” he said.
Baba Moyo said this made people respect the environment as they feared being on the wrong.
“These sacred days help to ensure that the environment does not get destroyed. This is no longer practised by people and that is why the rain is now scarce. It is also the reason why a lot of plants and animals reportedly die,” he said. – @flora_sibanda.