The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu ,Sunday Life Reporter
PATHISA Nyathi stood in front of the crowd like a sage, dispensing knowledge to an audience that was as thirsty and hungry for his wisdom as they were for the traditional dishes that they had been munching on a few minutes earlier.
Only moments earlier, their teeth were grinding and crunching on dishes that were once staples to their grandparents and ancestors but are now strange and unusual to their urban palate. Last Saturday was, after all, a return of sorts of the Amagugu Food Expo after a year’s hiatus due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020.
For that afternoon at least, gourmet meals and platters were forsaken as food items like umfahla, umcaba and inhopi made it to the menu. Wild fruit was eagerly devoured as young people, used to hustling and bustling amidst concrete and steel in the city, got a taste of wild fruit under the hills and trees of Matobo where life proceeds at a mellow, leisurely pace.
When Nyathi spoke however, those other attractions faded, and his voice demanded the same attention from his audience as the food had only a few moments earlier on. They had come to eat, marvel at the delicate pottery, the immaculately-woven baskets and the traditional art. In that moment when Nyathi spoke, when one could have heard the proverbial pin drop, they were given a lesson on Amagugu and what it stands for.
Sure, it is about the exhibition and preservation of culture but it is also about customs. It is the death of these customs which, should they be allowed to die, would signal the final nail in the coffin of long-held ways of living.
“There is a plant that is everywhere around called uMvutho. The Matobo Cultural Landscape, as it was declared in 2003, was deemed so because of a number of attributes, one of them was uMvutho. This plant has two things. It has a pot, which is the mother. We are here because we were built by a mother and father. Their seedling is what built all of us, it is what makes populations grow. We were all sown once upon a time and you have also gone on to do the same. Your children will do so. Individuals perish, humanity is forever,” Nyathi said.
As some looked forward to the braai on the rocks, where they would be treated to fresh meat, an unparalleled view of Gonde Dam and a rare glimpse of Njelele itself, Nyathi taught his audience how the “wild bush” that surrounded them gave and supported life. He taught them of customs that had symbolised fertility and birth and had kept one generation after the other going.
“So imvutho has a female part and a goat skin part. There is a connecting part from the male to the female and when you mix these things, which is charcoal which is carbon and hematite which is iron oxide, you will get something called manyilo coming out as waste. Manyilo are taken, because they come from something that gives life, something that causes an increase in population, by the man of the house who takes them and sprinkles them over the fields using what perhaps we might refer to as metal nodules.
What he will be looking for there is the prosperity of his fields by using something that gives birth. This is why when people do ritual killings, they target young people that they know are full of life and can give life. They don’t target old, tired people. So those are the seeds that are needed for growth,” he said.
Despite his wisdom and the spell under which he held those that undertook the tour of Amagugu on that day, Nyathi knows that his wise ways about life and ancient times and customs do not always find a willing audience. Customs have begun to fade, ways of lives lost, and things that are exotic or foreign appear to have a magnetic attraction for young people.
“What’s sad about heritage is that when one looks at it, it seems people have moved far from their heritage. It is as if we don’t like it or we are ashamed of it. We have become slaves to a foreign culture. No one drops from the heavens with knowledge. Knowledge is looked for and acquired.
“I have written books about the Matobo landscape and even Amagugu Cultural Centre itself. When you go to the national park and look at the animals there, you will see them aligned with those that are in the book. You’ll spot a bird or a lizard that’s in the book also there in the national park. We do this because we do not want the culture to die,” he said.
This year’s tour of Amagugu came only a week after Nyathi was recognised as one of the 40 biggest legends on the Zimbabwean cultural landscape in the National Arts Merit Awards organised by the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. Alongside Nkululeko Dube of Iyasa, Nyathi was honoured during the tour.
“I can’t dance but I can talk about dance. When I see a person dancing, when I see that rhythm and I see that movement, I see rain itself. Dance has its own way of talking,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dube encouraged people to spread the word on the Amagugu getaway and continue to honour Bulawayo artistes in their lifetimes. The gift of life, after all, is fleeting.
“Those that went to see uBaba Nyathi, you saw what people are missing out. I’m sure everyone can tell one or two people and we come in our numbers. In terms of the legendary status, for me, it’s a collective status. On my own, I have three left feet so I could not have achieved this. There are a lot of people that have contributed to what I am. I was recognised on behalf of all of you. Baba Nyathi is someone who knew me when I was breastfeeding. He is someone who knew and worked with my father.
My wish is that what you have done for Baba Nyathi you could do for everyone from Bulawayo. You saw Majaivana and he sang a bit that day. You know his story; you know his story and you know Sibonisiwe Sithole’s story. Let’s not wait for them to go to South Africa, Austria or for them to be mentioned by Big Nuz for us to acknowledge them. Let us be the first,” he said.