Home » Arts & Culture » Njelele Shrine Forgotten Treasure

CAN the economic challenges and social ills currently afflicting the country be attributed to lack of spiritual appeasement of thousands of people who perished during the liberation struggle? Do some sacred hills and places dotted around the country hold mysteries of how the country’s well-being can be restored?

Many Zimbabweans may not believe the country’s problems stem from the mystical realms of African spiritualism as most have converted to Christianity which often depicts African ways of doing things as evil and barbaric. But to the custodians of the Njelele shrine, located in the Matobo Hills, the ancient African spiritual realm still holds sway in people’s lives.

Here, like many sacred hills and places dotted around the country, mysterious happenings occur that could well be of national significance.

Ukhulu Tobheka Sifelano Ncube, the custodian of the Njejele shrine, is adamant that until the country’s leadership acknowledges the need for a national bira to appease those that died in the liberation struggle, the country’s fortunes will always face challenges.

“We should have held a national bira to not just thank our ancestral spirits but also to appease those who died and bring them home. Our children are crying in the wilderness.

“It puzzles me why the national leadership came here to consult the spirits on how to wage the war and they were deservedly aised and guided throughout the war but are now shunning the same spirits that were the torch bearers in the struggle,” said Tobheka Ncube.

Indeed, the significance of sacred shrines in the lives of Zimbabweans is also highlighted by the late Vice President, Dr Joshua Nkomo in his book “The Story of My Life” (1984), in which he recounted his visit to Matopos in the 1970s.

In the book, Dr Nkomo recounts having been led into the hill where a voice came from the rocks and promised that the land would be restored to its indigenous owners after 30 years.

“I cannot explain this event, but it happened and the prophecy came true. The other people accompanying us witnessed it,” Dr Nkomo recounts in his book.

The mysterious voice was last heard in in 1974.

The custodian of Njelele shrine, Tobheka Ncube feels that people have turned their backs on our traditional rituals, values and beliefs and urged government to revisit the issue of sacred places and enact laws to protect these shrines and elevate them to national heritage status.

He said the custodians of the sacred shrines must be empowered by the law to punish and prevent any desecration of the shrines to ensure their preservation. The situation, he said, has been worsened by the fact that some of the people who are supposed to lead the way in protecting the sacred places like traditional chiefs have converted to Christianity and now despise our traditional values as backward.

Ncube expressed regret that while colonial white commercial farmers in the vicinity of Matopos used to donate beasts every year before the beginning of the rainy season, the local leadership had since abandoned that ritual.

“The surprising thing is that we still have some people coming from as far as South Africa and Tanzania with all sorts of problems they want attended to, which is a vindication on our part that the shrine still holds the key in resolving some of the problems that the country is facing,” said Ncube.

Echoing the same sentiments, headman Mica Moyo of Dema Ward 17, who lives right on the edges of the Njelele shrine, urged Zimbabweans to appreciate the role of our forefathers who used the medium of Njelele to communicate to Mwali – the higher God.

Headman Moyo is under chief Masuku in the Khumalo communal lands whom he said had since converted to Christianity and no longer appreciates traditional beliefs and customs that sustained his forefathers.

He said he had to chase away some people who came in a convoy of vehicles wanting to visit the shrine because their demeanour was not respectful.

“Njelele is not a tourist site, it is a sacred shrine. People need to respect certain rituals before entering the caves. These people were disrespectful in that they came singing some songs in a convoy of vehicles. We called the police who assisted us in dispersing them,” said headman Moyo.

He said others who came in 2010 without observing proper rituals lost their way in the hills for a month while others were afflicted by mysterious diseases.

Headman Moyo concurred with Ncube that the Government must enact laws to protect all sacred places and empower the custodians of the shrines with powers to bar people from desecrating the hills.

He said mysterious things still happen at Njelele. He said one can find honey scattered all over the caves without any sight of bees but one can only eat the honey while in the cave and not take anything out.

Located 100km south of Bulawayo, Njelele shrine, sometimes referred to as Mabwedziva or Matonjeni, is a prominent rainmaking shrine outside the south western fringes of Matobo National Park in the Khumalo communal area.

According to headman Moyo, Njelele dates back to the time when the Mbire ethnic group migrated southwards from Lake Tanganyika and eventually settled at Great Zimbabwe.

Oral tradition has it that the Njelele shrine was first established at Great Zimbabwe even though some historians associate the establishment of the Mwari shrine at Njelele with the shift of the Rozvi administrative power from Great Zimbabwe to Matobo Hills.

The cult is seen as a Shona institution although the Ndebele later adopted the Mwari cult and regularly consulted the oracle when rains failed or when personal aice was needed.

It is believed that Lobengula housed some of the Mwari cult priests at his palace as aisers especially in times of crisis. The influence of Njelele spread as far afield as the country’s southern districts of Chivi in Masvingo. People were believed to have gone as far as Gutu to consult the oracle during times of drought.

It was after the establishment of Njelele in Matobo that other several such centres were founded such as Dula and Zhilo in the same locality, spreading their influence far and wide.

Traditional priests were said to be drawn from the Venda and Kalanga ethnic groups, which were deeply entrenched in the Mwari cult.

The unique aspect of Njelele is not necessarily the cave but a gallery of rocks so delicately balanced and placed to form small tunnels, which lead to the shrine’s various chambers from a narrow entrance between two tall rocks.

Various objects and ornaments adorn the walls including skulls, iron hoes, clay pots containing water, piles of tobacco, spears, cloth and beads as offerings to presiding deity. The presence of Mwari at Njelele is evidenced by his voice and the Shona people believed that Mwari was the highest and final authority above their ancestors.

The Shona people believed spirits reside in forests, mountains, caves, hollow trees and pools that are linked with intangible aspects of heritage. They attach great importance to the environment and believe that any desecrating of the environment angers the spirits.

Groups or individuals are still allowed to enter the shrine only with the consent and approval of the official priest or priestess or hisher appointee. Only virgins or post-menopausal women are allowed to partake in rain-making ceremonies as a way of ensuring the purity of the shrine.

One of the enduring and respected rituals was that of the first harvest which was conducted by elderly women and children below puberty who collected harvest from families. This ritual assisted in fostering unity and the protection of the underprivileged like widows and children.

It cannot be doubted that Njelele assumed higher value when prominent nationalists like Dr Nkomo and liberation fighters consulted the shrine for guidance and protection during the liberation war.

Source : The Herald