Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Ngoma Initiation Rite: A Distinctive Vatsonga Cultural Mainstay in Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Ngoma Initiation Rite: A Distinctive Vatsonga Cultural Mainstay in Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Introduction

The famous Ngoma rite of passage is a celebrated cultural corner stone of the Vatsonga in Zimbabwe, hence, an unbounded phenomenon practiced by the Vatsonga in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, and is believed to overlap the known statistical documentations and geographical limitations to countries where the Vatsonga are found in very insignificant counts.

In ordinary terms, the term Ngoma is used to mean a drum used in traditional dances and other related rituals. Here, the concept has figurative overtones that overlaps the surface meaning to assume an interchangeable significance with the term Murhundzu (the initiation rite). Thus it encompasses the ritualistic practice of the Vatsonga people engaging men of nearly all ages being taken either willingly or by force, to the bush for circumcision. It is also worth mentioning that the term Ngoma is used exclusively for male initiation rites, whereas female initiation rites fall under the heading Vukhomba.

Within Zimbabwe, the Ngoma ceremonial observance knows no ethnical frontiers but is common among the Varemba and the Vavenda in whose social circles the ritual marks a cultural badge of collective identification. Although the origin of the practice is elusive, the tradition has been upheld for different reasons from time beyond reckoning among Muslims, Africans, Americans and the biblical Jews among whom it symbolised loyal religious dedication and a mark of cultural identity representing the covenant between God and his people (Sibanda 2013).

In a Zimbabwean context among the Vatsonga, initiation marks a transitional phase in boys and girls that qualifies them for approval and acceptance as accomplished human beings in society (Guma 2001). Before initiation, they are deliberately made to suffer despondency through verbal disparaging, belittling, deprivations and all sorts of actions meant to make them feel the heat of being a socio-cultural outcast. Boys are usually warned against eating eggs, labeled maxuvuri and mimicked unmanly because they are victims of circumcisional phobia (a fear of going through the set traditional purificatory passageway). The significance of initiation ceremonies in some communities provides an important platform through which programs can reach many adolescents and intervene, particularly in addressing the widely held notion among initiates that attending these ceremonies symbolizes that one is not a child anymore and can take part in activities involving adult participants, the most significant of which being matrimonial placement (Munthali and Zulu 2007). This presupposes a popular ideology of cultural identity which forms the basis of ethnical concern. This concept of identity is intricate, and takes as read that every ethno-linguistic group is unique, where uniqueness implies that every culture has its own lens of looking at things in the phenomenal sphere of existence (Maposa 2011).

Thus, in Zimbabwe, the Ngoma initiation rite is, following the above mentioned impression, assumed to have kick started with the arrival of Matlala, a Mozambican who came to Zimbabwe and join the Vatsonga specifically for the administration of the Ngoma initiation rite. The name (Matlala) itself is of no specified origin and it takes no clear onomastic specifications. Thus, Matlala was a man of unfathomable cruelty and this slightly explains why most of the practised rites bore marked deeds very much similar to his hardheartedness. His inhumanity was manifest and the death of people during the Ngoma ritual sessions was not an unanticipated happening.

Rite Strengthening

The notion of rite-strengthening is a piercing yet widely believed conception among the communal supporters of the Ngoma initiation rite. History tells that every session had to take away the life of at list one human under the same seemingly shadowy belief of rite strengthening. With the advent of Matlala, the Ngoma rite was introduced with such a soldierly stance that the season ushered in a term of social, spiritual and psychological meltdown; at times with a mixture of melancholy and the celebratory oozing of culturally 'liberated' spirits. …

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