The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 1

There is evidence of the early inhabitants in various places. On Heathfield Estate a proclaimed National Monument consists of a large series of abstract engravings �circles, dots, lines and meanders � pecked on flat, horizontal rock surfaces, probably the work of an Iron Age people.

In Mutema Tribal Trust area are the Mutema Ruins, which appear to have been places of refuge for lowveld people from raiding Shangaan. There are several rough stone walls and a square coursed and bonded single-roomed chamber, for which carbon dates are A.D.I 150 and A.D.1230. A 17th century European firearm was found on the surface of this chamber. The site plays an important role in local traditions and tourist access is discouraged.

On Mutzarara, in caves which are basically underground watercourses widened in places, beads have been found: white bone or teeth ivory and translucent blue quartz up to �� in diameter and some very small copper ones, all usually associated with the slave trade and introduced from East Africa. An object like a wooden container for African medicine indicated that the cave might have been used by a witchdoctor at some time.

Artifacts, signs of early iron works, burial sites, innumerable primitive articles, and sets of rock paintings have been found.

The rock paintings in the Chimanimani Mountains, commonly attributed to the Bushmen, tell a story: they lived here, they saw elephant, buffalo, eland, reedbuck and other lesser animals; they hunted and killed these animals; they danced. Suddenly they departed; there is nothing in their rock art to show the arrival of the Bantu as is depicted in other parts of Rhodesia, and no clue as to why they went. Certainly, following the departure of the Bushmen, perhaps causing it, came the first waves of the Bantu pressing down from the North.

There is little evidence of any early settlement by the Bantu. The VaHode tribe reached the Rusitu valley early in the 17th century, and was probably the first of the tribes and sub-tribes which moved into today�s Melsetter administrative area which stretches up to the Odzi and Sabi rivers. The others were the VaGarwe round Mutambara, the VaNyamazha of Muwushu Tribal Trust Land, the VaRombe on Sawerombi, the VaUngweme on Rocklands and through the Chimanimani Pass into Portuguese territory, and VaNyaushe of Ndima T.T.L. who were almost certainly the last to arrive and appear to have come after the first Europeans were settled here and whose main body is in Portuguese territory. All seem to have stemmed from the Rozwe tribe around Charter, Buhera and Fort Victoria, and they evolved their own language chiNdau.

It is estimated that when the European settlers arrived the total local population was about 5000: it was certainly static and the numbers were possibly declining. Large tracts of the district, particularly the highveld, had no inhabitants. Each tribe had its own sphere of influence, which was constantly disputed both by the neighbouring tribes and by the Shangaans who raided the area frequently. The main method of livelihood was the gathering of fruit and the hunting of game, a little primitive agriculture was practised, and the population shifted from place to place in the low-lying regions. There was no real settlement and no indications of permanency.

The tribe was a group of family units led by a chief with advisers and councillors. The tribesmen�s lives were controlled by the tribal and ancestral spirits: there was nothing positive the tribesmen could do on their own and all matters had to receive spiritual approval. Real leadership was vested in the supernatural: the VaDzimu, whose earthly representative and spokesman was the chief, who was assisted by the VaSwikiro. The Swikiro was the medium between the earthly people and the spirits, and the man chosen for this position through manifesting a spiritualistic medium quality had many responsibilities and rituals to perform in connection with various ceremonies. Other important people who had to be consulted were the VaNganga � the witchdoctors and the rainmakers.

All the tribes held special ceremonies to ensure good rains. In Ngorima T.T.L. the chiefs ceremony was the Masoso in October, when free beer was provided and an ox was slaughtered, there was dancing and everybody was allowed to talk freely for a day and a night. Anyone could hold other rain ceremonies after the chief had held his, and all had special rituals laid down for procedure, including items such as the behaviour of the sacrificial goat and whose duty it was to brew the beer and to carry the beer and the meat.

In times of great drought the kraal heads took offerings of spices, grain, black cloth and snuff to the chief, who entrusted them to his envoys who carried the offerings to Musikavanhu, a famous rainmaker in Chipinga District, and it is alleged that the rain invariably came as the envoys were on their way back home.

Another great ceremony was one of thanksgiving after the reaping of the harvest, and some tribes had up to nine formal ceremonies every year, with various rituals for approaching and appeasing the spirits. The causes of disasters such as famine or fire were of no interest to tribesmen, who found it important only to propitiate the spirits in order to prevent the repetition of such events.

According to tribal legend the VaHode (pronounced h�die) or Ngorima tribe was formed by Sahode, a dissident Rozwe chief who came to settle around the Nyahode river area with a band of followers. Present-day elders retain in memory the name of every chief since Sahode.

The few people already living here were soon absorbed by the newcomers through intermarriage, and the new tribe retained many of the parent Rozwe customs, one of the most significant being that chieftainship passed only from father to eldest surviving son and about a year was allowed to elapse before a new chief was installed.

The tribal lands covered a variety of altitudes, soils and rainfall, so the cropping of cereals, beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and ~,inach was a reasonably simple matter. Wild fruits, herbs and mushrooms were abundant and honey, flying ants and caterpillars were often available. Hunting the abundant game or trapping fish or fowl supplemented a diet otherwise provided by their own domestic cattle, goats and chickens. Ironstone and a wide selection of indigenous woods were available for fashioning their implements and there was clay for making pots.

The tribe enjoyed peace and comparative prosperity until the mid-l9th century when the first of the Shangaan raiding parties appeared on the scene. The chief at that time, Kufakweni, had as a young man sought adventure with the ranks of the Zulu Zwangendaba who was raiding his way through Rhodesia. Kufakweni�s name was changed to �Ngorima� following an angry remark he once made in reply to an accusation that, while he wasted time in adventuring, others were engaged in the more important task of hoeing the gardens. �Well, I am hoeing with the spear�, he said. (To hoe in chiNdau is �ku-nina�.)

Ngorima organised the tribe on a defensive basis with lookout posts strung along the perimeter of his country, and successfully held the raiders at bay for eight years, and on more than one occasion he fell upon a raiding party before it even set foot within his territory. He was an audacious leader and the tribesmen were proud to call themselves the Ngorima people.

About 1873 Mzila, then chief of the Gaza people, sent three powerful groups which made a combined and successful onslaught. Ngorima escaped with his nearest relatives and a loyal bodyguard after carrying out a scorched earth policy, and decided to get Lobengula�s support to reinstate him, in return for which he would offer his allegiance. On his journey across country to Matabeleland he was dissuaded from this plan by Chief Gutu who offered him a place to live in today�s Victoria province. He eventually died and was buried there, and later his bones were disinterred and brought back for reburial near the old Kraal site on Tilbury Estate.

Ngorima�s son became chief and settled on the banks of the Rusitu river, quite happy to accept Gungunyana, who had succeeded Mzila in 1884, as paramount. The remnants of the old Hode tribe, many now with Shangaan blood in their veins, gathered round the new Ngorima and a tribal unit was again established. It was at this stage that the first Europeans arrived in the area, and the position of the chiefs Kraal influenced the siting of Ngorima Reserve. The second Ngorima moved from the new Reserve in 1912 to live near the ancestral home on Tilbury, where his son and grandson lived in turn, and this policy of living apart from the mass of their people weakened tribal cohesion for some years until the chiefs came back to live among their people in Ngorima Tribal Trust Land.

Traditional burial grounds of other local chiefs are to be seen at Mbundirenyi on Dunblane and Tsanza on Lindley North facing the mountains. The VaUngweme have used these groves of trees walled with stone.

According to the list of chiefs, the VaNyamazha came to Muwushu, Biriwiri and Nyanyadzi about 1800. Some of the people were led by a spirit to what was later known as the farm Cyclops where they found a man, masonga, who belonged to no particular tribe, living alone off fruits, and settled near him and were called the Nyamazha, the Unknown; the story goes that these tribesmen took refuge at the top of Nyamazha hill and were all slain when Gungunyana�s people raided, and the gwasha then became a sacred place which may be visited by tribesmen only with spirit approval and where special offerings are made to propitiate the spirits.

The VaNyamazha chiefs were buried on a small hill called Teterera, and it was customary for anybody wishing to cross Teterera to talk all the time or make some continual noise, or else he would see strange things and eventually die.

In 1899 Gungunyana established his headquarters at Manhlagazi, about 50 miles north of the Limpopo river and some 120 miles from its mouth at Delagoa Bay, and it was to Manhlagazi that later visits were made which were associated with the settlement of the Melsetter area.