“No one can live a solitary existence”
Doesn’t that ring true? In the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe, this is one of their central beliefs. They strive to strengthen the importance of family and each member is considered vital, living in unity and helping one another. That sounds like every other family, but in the Shona tribe, being a member of the kinship means being part of their personal misfortune. To the extent that illness or death is considered to be the fault of one of the other family members rather than the deceased alone.
It goes beyond life too – The Shona spirit belief is that when someone dies, their spirit will act as the family’s guardian angel called the ‘mudzimu.’ Every family of the Shona tribe have a mudzimu. They believe their influence is so strong that they remain part of the community. With that, every family maintains a shrine, where the descendants can pay their respects and seek help from their guardian ancestor [Nice to know there’s someone who’s looking after you].
In fact, it is believed that the spirits can communicate with the living kin through a chosen medium also known as n’anga, that possess people and can also change shape or transform into an animal. The n’anga tries to make amends on the conflicts and obstacles of the family or tribe in situations like illness or death [which might’ve been the doings of a witch- no, really] and diagnose the cause of trouble.
This out-of-the-ordinary ideology doesn’t stop here. One’s offense can achieve forgiveness and restoration of the protection from their ‘vadzimu’, in spite of how serious their offense may be. This can be accomplished by offering a sacrifice- beer or an animal- the bigger the offense, the bigger the sacrifice to compensate.
However, when one dies, the offense is completely forgiven. “In the spirit world, the spirit is never reminded of what he did during his lifetime; his name is cleared and he has a fresh slate.” And just like the movie The Book of Life, he is remembered as long as his descendants are still alive.
The Shona mythology was and continues to be an inspiration for African artists, from traditional to today’s modern artists. Shona sculpture first gained international recognition in the 1950s, called the Shona Art movement, which then became Shona Sculpture and continues to thrive in Africa, United States and Continental Europe.
Luckily, this fascinating art form with a unique, quirky, interesting history has found its way to the UAE! So, come by Al Serkal Avenue, for a taste of rich culture and tradition, showcasing the work of seven Zimbabwean artists wherein each sculpture is given the Shona Ancestral Blessing called the Ukama, evoking universal harmony and peace.
The exhibition is on till the 30th of April.
Featured Image Courtesy of showcaseuae.com