I have decided to write an article on Chivhu my rural home where I spent my 2013 Christmas. Most Zimbabwean do not document their life experiences yet alone anything about life in their rural homes. So I have decided to break that trend so that my kids and their kids (and so on) can read about what we the present generation did during our time.
I grew up in Mutare,the 3rd largest city in Zimbabwe with about 120,000 residents but my family is originally from Chivhu, a rural town in Mashonaland East 120 km outside the capital Harare. December 2013 was my first Christmas in Zimbabwe in over 13 years, so a few cousins and I decided to spend Christmas in Chivhu with our grandmother Evyleen Ruhukwa.
My family is from Ruhukwa Village which is an hour outside Chivhu town deep in rural country. Our village is under Sabhuku (Village Head) Dhokwani, Headman Madamombe and Chief Chivese, these are the traditional leaders responsible for our area. Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe is also from Chivhu, her village is in Madamombe about 3km from mine.
Ruhukwa village is made up of several households from the Ruhukwa family. My late grandfather Elijah Ruhukwa named my father Muwaniri after his own late father Muwanirwi Ruhukwa, my great grandfather. My siblings and I are the 2nd generation of Muwaniri’s from the Ruhukwa family. It is common in Chivhu for family names to be different within the same blood line. Ruhukwa’s are also known as Dhomio, Mangwiro, Tsikidze, Dhokwani, we are all descendants of my great grandfather Muwanirwi who had 5 wives. My grandmother jokes about the fact that Muwanirwi used to visit all 5 wives in one night, “his battery was fully charged” she said. The photo below is that of my Great Grandfather Muwanirwi, who was buried beneath a huge rock.
My grandfather Elijah, a skilled hunter had 3 wives but not simultaneously.We all share the same totem which is the ‘heart’ (Moyo Sinyoro). Your totem is your family symbol and is the traditional way of keeping family lineage. As the family tree grows and generations pass, extended families lose tough with each other. With the totem system, a man and woman with the same totem cannot get married to each other as they are considered to be of the same bloodline. Your totem is inherited from your father and can also be found as animal symbols, for example; lion (shumba), monkey (soko), eland (mhofu). Every black Zimbabwean has a totem, you cannot eat your totem or legend says that all your teeth will fall out. So in the Ruhukwa family we do not eat the heart of any animal, Just as well!
Rural Zimbabwe is still dominated by subsistence farming and December is the start of the rainy season so villagers are busy planting and tending their crops. The main crops grown are maize, beans, nuts and sweet potatoes.
Cattle are used in the cultivation of crops, they are trained to pull a plough that digs into the soil for seeds to be dropped. As seen in the picture below, one person leads the cattle, the other holds the plough and the 3rdperson drives them on.
All the households in the village have a garden by the river which they grow all sorts of vegetables. The gardens are surrounded by wooden fences to prevent livestock entering. But a determined cow will always find a way to break in, especially in the dry season when there is less grass around. Cattle have different characters because some are totally docile and would never think of breaking into the gardens, then you find those that are schemers and are always raiding villager’s gardens. Bells are usually put on the clever ones.
I few villagers have started to grow tobacco for commercial sale which will bring welcomed income as tobacco is fetching a high price on the market. My only concern is tobacco in rural areas means a lot of deforestation. After harvesting the process of curing tobacco involves using firewood to heat the leaves 24 hours a day for 7 days, therefore leading to a lot of deforestation in tobacco grown areas. Commercial farmers use coal and with 2013 being the biggest year for tobacco growing ever in Zimbabwe, coal needs to be given to small scale farmers as well or forests will disappear. It has already been predicted that by 2025 most of Zimbabwe will be semi-arid desert due to the high rate of deforestation. In th 2nd picture above my cousin Simione Dhomio is watering his tobbacoo nursery which has to be covered with straw to prevent the cold getting in.
Cattle are the most important possessions in rural Zimbabwe, they are a sign of family wealth. Villagers also own goats and chickens which are a source of meat, donkeys are used to carry sacks of maize to the grinding mill. Cattle have more value to rural residents, they provide meat, fresh milk and labour. Cattle are used for pulling ploughs and scotch carts as seen in the picture below. I decided to join my uncle collect topsoil to put in the crop fields and this male called Champion, decided he wasn’t going anywhere once scotch cart was loaded. Goes back to my point about scheming cattle, he only moved when he wanted to taking us longer to get the load home. His plan worked because we released him for the next load and put on Zambia, a big strong female. She wasn’t too impressed either as females are rarely used for labour, but she did the job. High Code the other male, a hard worker gave no fuss on all the loads.
In the rainy season the boys spend most of the day out in the grazing lands for the cattle to feed. With agricultural activity happening during this time cattle have to be attended to so they don’t raid any crops. In the other seasons cattle graze unattended. While out with the cattle the boys entertain themselves by making bulls fight. It is the highest honour amongst the boys to own the strongest bull that defeats the rest. Sometime meetings are arranged with boys from other villages so bulls can fight. Watching bulls fight is like watching a soccer match, a lot of cheering and commentating, “oh did you see that header, wow.”
I fully understand the boys because when I was younger visiting Chivhu we had a family bull called Muwanirwi after my great grandfather. A traditional ceremony had been conducted whereby they took the bull while he was still young and rituals were performed for him. Traditional beer is brewed and consumed during these ceremonies, the point was to take the spirit of my great grandfather and place it in the bull to watch over the family. So this bull was meant to be possessed with my great grandfather’s spirit. I used to be obsessed with watching this bull fight and as kids that is the best thrill you could get.
The boys also swim in the river to pass time, always keeping an eye on the cattle as they may sneak away into someone crop field which is a big offence that is punishable in traditional court. By the river is a spring which never dries out even in the heaviest drought, it is considered ancestal and you are not alowed to be rude while there. You have to give thanks after drinking it, as you can see Pardon is quenching his thirst.
Hunting and Honey
I decided to join the boys on a hunt, 7 of us plus 6 dogs. We had to walk spread out across so we had a better chance of startling prey (hare,dyke, birds).
We didn’t come across any prey but a potential bee hive, so the boys decided to dig for some honey. The plan was to smoke the bees out and break into the nest.
After digging and finding no bees fleeing from the smoke we came to the conclusion there were no bees or honey. The boys told me that when hunting they had to know who’s land they were on because if catch hunting in land belonging to white owners you could be shot for poaching. I thought it was a bit harsh to shoot at young boys hunting hares, but the boys still risk it. The boys dont always go home empty handed, this is a tree they once collected honey from. Munya wasnt afraid to stick his hand in, I wasnt so forth coming.
My grandmother offered for us to slaughter a cow on Christmas day, so we killed a young male. We killed him in the kraal with the rest of the cattle there, I was worried they would react to the dying sounds, but nothing.
Certain parts of the carcass are for certain members of the family, as the young men we got a thigh to braai (bbq).
Going to visit your rural home makes one humble, those are your grass roots and one should appreciate them. But seems most city dwellers have no interest in being associated with their rural homes, especially the young. They think it’s for the older generation, the fact that most rural homes have no electricity or running water from a tap doesn’t help. Personally, I think the countryside has more to offer than the city. Land is plentyful and can be used to generate income, you are away from all the noise and pollution in the city, fresh air, clean water, beautiful scenery, and you cannot beat that.
Being in the land of my ancestry makes me appreciate my life and its origins, it has a way of fulfilling me. Visiting Chivhu as a child has made me who I am today because it is one of the reasons I decided to study Rural Development while living in Ireland. I have a passion for rural development because I grew up appreciating and learning enough about the rural areas of Zimbabwe. I want to thank my two grandamas in Chivhu, Beatrice and Lillian Ruhukwa for all they have done for me in my life and for making Christmas 2013 special. I also want to thank my cousins, Samatha and Rumbi Chiripamberi, Talent, Pardon, Pamela, Marky, Munya, Muzengi and Sekuru Chibwe.
I want dedicate this article to my late uncles; Aloise Ruhukwa, Elijah Alphonse Ruhukwa, Patrick Arnold Ruhukwa and Emanuel Ruhukwa, who I hold dearly in my heart, ALWAYS.