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Exhumation in the context of Gukurahundi and Ndebele thought

06 Oct 2019 at 16:01hrs | Views
AS efforts continue to find closure to the Gukurahundi conundrum, hopes are being raised that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. While people may be speaking freely on the subject, closure will only come when two sides to that conflict come together in common commitment, conviction and determination to deal definitively and conclusively with the issue. Dialogue among victims on their own may, in the final analysis, result in a stillbirth.

However, this article takes a look at exhumation in the context of Gukurahundi and Ndebele spirituality. From the outset, it is important to point out that a conflict, in terms of its content, complexion, understanding, conceptualisation and resolution strategies has to be firmly grounded in the political, social, cultural and, most importantly, on the affected community's world-view, thought and beliefs.

Conflict resolution which stands a chance of resulting in healing, forgiveness, closure and social cohesion encapsulates a mental process. All this goes to underline and underpin the critical importance of coming up with strategies that are particular, specific and unique to those affected by the conflict. Imperialistic strategies purporting and proffering universal application are not likely to take root.

It is against this backdrop that we comment on exhumation that is being touted as part and parcel of finding solutions that promise closure. Before we go further, we need to point out that Africans are essentially a spiritual and humanistic people.

As we shall point out later, an exhumed man's femur (thigh bone) is much more than a mere physical or material entity. It is bone, as a tangible and concrete part of a human body. More important about it, in African and Ndebele terms, is the extent of its intangible or spiritual dimensions.

The former is the tip of an iceberg and the latter the bigger submerged portion of the iceberg. Western society views the bone as bone, no more, no less. That society is materialistic and does not entertain spirituality in its "scientific" operations.

Let us take a step backwards and borrow from the Ndebele past. Soldiers who died during war did not have their corpses carried back home for interment. This was not because it was not feasible to take the corpse back home.

A people's thought, world-view, cosmology and beliefs inform and underpin their outward or manifest behaviour. One who died violently and agonisingly had a troubled and tormented spirit.

Such a spirit was not supposed to find its way back home lest it caused misery, depression and gloom to the deceased's progeny. Instead, the best that was done in the circumstances was to push the body into an antbear hole and cover it up. Spears were retrieved and taken back by survivors and cleansed before use.

Violent deaths in different situations and circumstances were treated in similar manner. I once witnessed a man who was stabbed to death in South Africa whose corpse was brought into Zimbabwe.

The corpse was kept outside the man's homestead from where it was taken straight to the grave for interment. If it was one who committed suicide, he/she did not have his/her corpse taken into the homestead.

This was to avoid his/her progeny being inclined towards suicidal tendencies. The deceased's spirit induces similar tendencies as those that brought about his/her death. No bringing home ceremony, umbuyiso, was conducted for such people. Hopefully, the reasons are now appreciated.

Now equipped with a package of Ndebele thought and ideas we may relate more specifically to Gukurahundi. The manner in which death was visited upon the victims was violent in the extreme. The people were traumatised and their spirits were haunted, troubled and agonised. These are negative states that should not be visited upon their progeny and close blood relatives. The trauma and agony were perpetrated at several levels/layers: living relatives and the living dead at the spiritual realm.

This is important to appreciate as solutions (forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and closure) have to take these into consideration. Reconciliation is not a matter just between victims and perpetrators. It is a multi-layered process which has a bearing on the tier of the ancestors.

Before referring more specifically to Gukurahundi  graves, let's seek a better appreciation of representations and symbolism in relation to graves. Several years ago, my aunt and her daughter were to have their bringing home ceremonies (imibuyiso) held simultaneously at Pupu in Lupane. My cousin had been buried in Bulawayo. The solution, to circumvent the challenge of distance, was to obtain soil from her grave in Bulawayo. The soil was then buried outside the homestead at Pupu. This drives the point that the soil in her grave represented her. Taking and burying it at Pupu was to translocate her grave closer home. Translocation facilitated the bringing home, umbuyiso, ritual.

Indeed, on the evening of the rituals my father led relatives to my aunt's grave. A goat was dragged to her grave where my father addressed his sister's spirit and poured beer on the head of the grave and more on the goat which I was holding tenaciously.

With all verbal pronouncements done, I led the goat, by leash, back into the homestead.

That symbolised the entry of my aunt's spirit into the homestead. Next it was my cousin's turn.

We went to the site where soil from her grave was interred. Similar procedures were undertaken.

The two's spirits were successful brought home (for details see, Nyathi, Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage).

Source - sundaynews
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