The Sunday News
Book review: Musiwaro Ndakaripa, A History of the Munyikwa People of Gutu District, Zimbabwe c.1700-c. 1890, ISBN 978-1-77920-111-9, University of Zimbabwe Publications, Harare, 2017
Reconstructing Zimbabwe’s pre-colonial past/s has been subject to marginalisation by historians, especially in deploying oral traditions.
Oral traditions on pre-colonial Zimbabwe owe much to the dynastic histories such that an attempt to go beyond “chiefdom approach” has been limited.
The late David Norman Beach, a key figure in pre-colonial history of Zimbabwe focused much on analysing the ruling elites, that is chieftainship and dynasties such that those of non-ruling polities did not receive historical attention. Musiwaro Ndakaripa, a lecturer in the department of History at the University of Zimbabwe with a dedication to his mother, Clara Ninipisai Basera wrote A History of the Munyikwa People of Gutu District, Zimbabwe c.1700-c.1890.
As such, Musiwaro Ndakaripa’s 2017 publication provides detail into this knowledge gap as well as an attempt into breaking with tradition of men who research on gender and women history on pre-colonial Zimbabwe.
Despite this “breaking with tradition” the University of Zimbabwe department of History remains a male dominated fort which complements with the pioneer historians such as Ngwabi Bhebe, the late David Norman Beach, Julian Cobbing, Hoyin Bhila, Stan Mudenge, among others.
Unlike the former, the current crop of historians at the University of Zimbabwe contributes academically to gender dimensions and women history. Musiwaro Ndakaripa’s 2017 publication, A History of the Munyikwa People of Gutu District, Zimbabwe c.1700-c. 1890 offers an interesting contribution to pre-colonial pasts relying on oral traditions. The book is based on Musiwaro Ndakaripa’s Master of Arts in African History thesis entitled: A History of the Munyikwa People of South Eastern Gutu with Particular Reference to Oral Traditions of Origin, Social and Political Relations, c. 1700 to c. 1890 which was submitted a decade ago in July 2008.
Building on J van Helsen’s explanation on kinship, Ndakaripa maintains that it is viewed as relationships between people established by marriages, parenthood and totems (p. 10). Joseph Mujere (2003) also argues that, by deploying kinship it is possible to gain insights into pre-colonial African societies because a large number of identities, such as cult lineages, chiefs, clans and economic identities can be studied. In a seminar paper, Sabelo Ndlovu Gatsheni (2005) argued that “women voices” have received less attention in the study of pre-colonial history of Zimbabwe.
Also notable is that Ndakaripa’s work contributes positively to this body of knowledge adding value to women voices from Munyikwa in Gutu joining classical academics within the same discourse including Elizabeth Schimdt. More importantly, Prof. Gerald C. Mazarire and Dr. Joseph Mujere’s influence in emphasising and appreciating the imperatives of oral traditions and the history of Gutu can be observed in Ndakaripa’s publication in a positive way as the author acknowledges (p. vii).
The book is divided into four chapters, with the first chapter exploring and examining oral traditions of origins of the early inhabitants, who settled in the Munyikwa territory before the coming of the Rufura people, like the Shava, Shiri, Moyo-Nyakuvengwa and the Duma people.
The chapter argues that these totemic groups used their traditions to claim social and political status in the Munyikwa polity. Musiwaro further argues that although these groups did not have a united polity before the occupation of the area by the Munyikwa-Rufura people they have a history worth to be written.
Chapter two examines the tradition of origins of the Munyikwa-Rufura people of the gumbo-madyirapazhe totem. It looks at how they managed to carve out an enclave and establish their dominance in this area which the Hera, in the northeast, and the Duma, in the southwest, also wanted to control. It also examines the response of the early inhabitants to the occupation of the area by the Munyikwa.
These are groups of people living in Munyikwa whose history the researcher was interested in studying.
It is argued that the Munyikwa-Rufura people maintained the pre-existing religious beliefs, customs and cultural practices of the early inhabitants of the area. This book argues that the Munyikwa-Rufura people did not rely solely on military power to impose their dominance in the area, but interacted with the local inhabitants who settled in the area earlier through marriage alliances which resulted in a web of kinship ties.
It was largely through kinship ties that the Munyikwa-Rufura people were recognised as secular rulers of the Munyikwa people by the first comers or early inhabitants and other incoming totemic groups.
Chapter three discusses the political and social aspects of the Munyikwa society. It examines succession systems, religion, kinship relations and how the Munyikwa polity was governed.
The chapter argues that a large number of identities in Munyikwa were based on kinship. Thus, in pre-colonial Munyikwa society, social and political linkages were formed on the basis of kinship and positions of leadership or political power were rarely vested in a single person or group. It was on the basis of kinship that some people obtained power and high social status in Munyikwa.
The chapter is also interesting in that, oral traditions of migrations of the Munyikwa people from Musana area in the north to South East Gutu are accounted for. Diplomacy, interaction and intermarriages were pivotal in their relations as they expelled the Rozvi and Shiri were the early comers to this landscape.
Hence, it is argued that kinship was the nerve centre on which social and political identities revolved in Munyikwa.
The last chapter examines the impact of frontier relations with neighbours on social and political relations among the Munyikwa people. The chapter analyses the relations between the Munyikwa people and their neighbours like the Gutu-Rufura chiefdom, the Duma confederacy, Rozvi and the Hera in Buhera.
The basic argument in this chapter is that in order to maintain good relations with their neighbours, the dominant Munyikwa-Rufura people had to maintain good kinship relations with other totemic groups in Munyikwa with “external” origins or who were related with “outside” people.
It is also argued that the Munyikwa-Rufura dynasty maintained good relations with their neighbours through intermarriages. Religion elevated the social status of the non-ruling totemic groups since the Munyikwa-Rufura people often appealed to the rain-making cults of their neighbours through the totemic groups which were related to them.
I recommend this work as it appeals to both the academic and non-academic readers. The language is also well readable to experts and novices on historical issues.
History facilitators with interest in Zimbabwe’s pre-colonial history may also immensely benefit from Ndakaripa’s 2017 publication as he engages oral traditions and oral narratives on the political, social and economic relations of the Munyikwa people in Gutu, Zimbabwe.
Beyond focusing on pre-colonial history and Shona oral traditions, Ndakaripa has research interests on Indigenisation of the Zimbabwean economy, State-civil society relations, Sanctions, Belonging, Citizenship and Property Rights as well as Research methodologies.
– Brian Maregedze is a historian, author and columnist. He is also a Research Associate with Leaders for Africa Network, a Pan African research think-tank as well as a member with the Zimbabwe Historical Association (ZHA). He can be contacted at [email protected] or alternatively, visit him at Valley Crest Academy in Waterfalls-Park town, Harare.