13 Jun 2007


Posted by K Chikuse

He was a famous seer from Chitungwiza, in the Hartley district. He seems to have been a man of high character and unusual gifts. Lobengula used frequently to consult him, and for many years treated him with great consideration. He had remarkable power over animals: he kept tame pythons and other snakes; antelopes gambolled fearlessly about his hut, and his celebrated bull, Minduzapasi, would lie down and rise up, march and halt, at the word of command. He was believed to be the medium of the spirit called Chaminuka; his real name was Tsuro.

He was credited with the power to bring rain and to control the movements of game; Frederick Courteney Selous, when hunting in that part of the country, was told by his followers that they would never succeed in killing an elephant unless they first asked Chaminuka’s permission. When this was done he gave the messenger a reed which was “supposed to bring the elephants back on their tracks by first pointing the way they had gone and then drawing it towards him.”

In 1883 a man who believed Chaminuka to have been responsible for the death of his wife went to Lobengula with a false accusation of witchcraft against him. The king may or may not have believed this, but in any case he resolved on Chaminuka’s destruction. He sent him a message, inviting him to Bulawayo on a friendly visit, but the old man was not deceived. He said,

I go to the Madzwiti [Amandebele], but I shall not return; but, mark you, some eight years hence, behold I the stranger will enter, and he will build himself white houses.

The prophecy was fulfilled before the eight years were out, for the Chartered Company’s pioneer expedition entered Mashonaland in 1890.

He set out, accompanied by his wife and two of his sons, and met Lobengula’s war-party near the Shangani river. Most of the warriors kept out of sight; only a few headmen came to meet him. His wife, Bavea, who had been a captive of the Amandebele (she was sent to Chaminuka by Lobengula), said, “They are going to kill you! I know the Amandebele; I see blood in their eyes! Run! Run!” He refused, saying he was too old to run.

If his day has come Chaminuka does not fear to die; but bid my son, who is young and swift of foot, creep away in the bushes while there is yet time and carry the news to my people.

The little party were soon surrounded and all killed, except Chaminuka himself, Bavea, and his other son, Kwari, who was wounded in the leg, got away. The old chief sat on a rock, calmly playing on his mbira. His assailants tried to stab him with their spears, but could not even wound him. Some of them had rifles and fired at him, but the bullets fell round him like hailstones, without touching him.

At last he told them that he could be killed only by an innocent young boy, and such a one, being fetched, dispatched him unresisting. The impi, having cut up his body in order to get the liver and heart, which were held to be powerful ‘medicines,’ went on to Chitungwiza, in order to exterminate Chaminuka’s whole clan, as Lobengula had commanded. But Bute, the son who had been sent away, was fleet of foot, and reached the village in time, and when the warriors arrived they found only empty huts and such stores and cattle as the people had been unable to take with them. Bavea was taken back to Bulawayo, but escaped, and in 1887 told the story to Selous, who saw her in Lomagundi’s country (North Mashonaland).

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