VaNhinhi – My Family Tree

I have decided to put together what I have traced over some years as my roots. I will not claim 100% accuracy because of lack of verifiable recorded history of the clan. A lot has been gained in conversations with other clansmen and people who interacted with my clan over generations. I love history and will be very glad if people with further information or corrections help to improve my input. This will remain work-in-progress as it is not foolproof at all. Now to the history!

The Karanga society is mainly patrilineal and most of the history that is captured is that of males. The males are also expected to take traditional leadership positions such as chieftainship, but, in the modern society this is changing as women gain more voice and are slowly claiming a share of the heritage.

VaNhinhi is a clan name for a group of Zimbabweans that are also known as of the Shumba Sipambi totem. The group settled at a hill south east of present day city of Masvingo in the mid 19thcentury. They had come from present day Mashonaland district of Hwedza after migrating again from Mudzi/Mutoko area.

There is a rich oral history passed from generation to generation, as well as the recorded one, chronicled through European and other writers, travellers, explorers, missionaries and traders.

The VaNhinhi are a totem title for a small part of the tribes that are known as the Bantu. The Bantu people have occupied most of Central, Eastern and Southern Africa for centuries. They are identified mostly by the common words with different pronunciations, intonations and other minor variations in their languages. Most history of the Bantu was oral and passed from generation to generation. All accounts oral and written, provide a good starting point of understanding the history of a people who had no known system of easily decodable records, though they mingled with people who had forms of writing such as Arab traders from the Middle and Far East as well as missionaries, explorers and early settler Europeans like the Portuguese. In later years a collection of similar language dialects largely spoken in present day Zimbabwe, Mozambique and some small parts of Zambia became collectively known as the Shona. Shona speaking tribes are known as the are earliest residents at, and the builders of the ancient city of Zimbabwe. The early identity of these people revolved around the Karanga, Kalanga, Rozvi and Mbire tribes, who are part of the bigger Bantu group of people of Central, Eastern and Southern African.

I am neither a historian nor anthropologist and my interest is the simple identity of my personal origins and the general history of the small Shumba (lion) Sipambi totem clan of people also called VaNhinhi, who are settled south of the city of Masvingo in Zimbabwe.

I, Pedzisai Mufara, am a MuNhinhi, whose family is settled in Chivi District of Masvingo Province since early 20th Century, having been moved off their land in the area of present day Chief Charumbira by colonial farmers.

The title of the VaNhini dynasty leader is Mambo/Ishe (Chief) Charumbira. The VaNhinhi are probably some of the later settlers in that part of Masvingo Province having arrived from Mutoko via Hwedza around 1840. The VaNhinhi people broke away from the Budya people of Mutoko.

The Shona-speaking people in Zimbabwe, some Nguni and other tribes in Southern Africa use a totem as a form of group identity. It is normally an animal or part of an animal which they hold sacred and give ritual importance. The Shumba (Lion) Nehoreka totem was huge and had originally tracked south from Tanzania via Malawi and Mozambique as part of the centuries of Bantu migration. Nehoreka, through conquest of other clans, became the paramount ruler in what is today Mutoko district. Among his subjects were many people belonging to other totems. The people collectively called themselves the Budjya. Up to now people of Mutoko identify themselves as Budjya and have their own Shona dialect of the same name.

For centuries and for varied reasons, clans broke away from the paramount Budjya group to form their own. The clans relocated to different parts of the area. Journeying southwards seemed to be very popular and historians have identified many groups with Budjya connections that are settled across present day Zimbabwe.

Around 1800, from the Budya people, came a small group that journeyed South to present day Hwedza District in Zimbabwe. It has not been easy to establish whether they were of the Shumba (lion) Nehoreka totem or not at the point of departure from Mutoko. But when they broke off and trekked south to Hwedza, they lived among the Mbire/Svosve. They also passed themselves as of the same VaMbire clan, (tsoko/shoko totem). Their reason for breaking off is also not clear. Our elders say they were hunters and wanted to trade ivory with Portuguese people who frequently visited Svosve area for the purpose. This story has been repeated mostly by those who listened to the spirit of Chainda, the founder of the clan in Masvingo, as it manifested on one of his grandsons, Masikati Zvitambo. Other sources say they had a cattle-rustling charm that got them into trouble with Nehoreka’s people. This theory is propagated by historian Aeneas Chigwedere[1]. Chigwedere’s theories are doubtful, as he completely ignores the fact that the clan initially settled in Hwedza after leaving Mutoko. He claims that his sources did not trace the journey from Mutoko through Hwedza. Yet, it is from Hwedza that our elders easily narrate their journey. Even in invoking the ancestral spirits, it is often common for VaNhinhi to refer to vakasara Hwedza (those who remained in Hwedza) or vari kwaSvosve (those in Svosve’s land). Perhaps this also reinforces the shoko totem issue, which some now want to deny and say they used it to mislead enemies. That we were originally of the shoko[2]totem is hardly disputable. Chigwedere is also inaccurate when it comes to the leaders who reached Masvingo. He thinks Sinamano, who was actually the clan patriarch in Masvingo, was killed on the way from Mutoko, yet there is ample evidence from the oral history and the National Archives of Zimbabwe that Sinamano was the patriarch when they settled at Nhinihuru Hill and is buried there.

In Hwedza the group settled near the confluence of Macheke and Save rivers under Chief Svosve for a sometime. The original leaders from Mutoko, Magwenjere, Samhiwa and Musakadongo are buried in the Mukamba area of Hwedza. Magwenjere is known as the patriarch r of the group, who who led them from Mutoko to Hwedza

In Svosve’s area, the other leaders became Sinamano, Nematukununu, Nguvo (a.k.a Bika), Nyakunhuhwa and Nezvigaro. Sinamano was the father figure and leader of the clan at the time of migration to Masvingo.

There are many stories about why they ended up in Masvingo.

The story from our elders is that one of Sinamano’s son, Chainda became possessed by hunting spirits after having been snatched by a mermaid and disappeared into a pool in Macheke river for a year. The myth of the mermaid is highly believed among the Shona and Bantu people in general. Myths aside, it is evident that Chainda became a great elephant hunter using powerful charms for most of his life. It is these charms and prowess at hunting elephant that led him to track down to Masvingo area looking for ivory. But it is also claimed that, when he came out of the mermaid pool, Chainda had gained some horn blowing skills that unsettled the Svosve people. They wanted to get him tried for causing alarm by blowing a trumpet as if there was a war. He fled together with some of the young clansmen he used to hunt with. Yet, another theory is that they had committed a murder against Svosve people and they were chased away. Besides, Chainda, the other prominent people he fled with were Nyakunhuhwa and Rakawota. They tracked southwards through Buhera and Gutu until they crossed Mutirikwi river. The area they settled was ruled by Chirichoga or Mumeri who was also called Nemanwa. It was called Rusvingo. They introduced themselves as hunters and befriended Chirichoga who found them useful in getting rid of problem animals, especially elephants that were destroying crops in his area. They were also to become handy in Nemanwa’s future wars with Mugabe of the VaDuma clan, over the control of the Great Zimbabwe monument.

The group’s ritual was to kill an elephant and keep the tusk on the side which it fell, then give Mumeri the other. They used to take back the tasks to Hwedza and sell to the Portuguese who visited and had also been intermarried with locals to form the Sinyoro Moyo totem. Legend has it that Chainda and his friends were so good at killing elephants that they used a simple axe or bow and arrow. They say Chaenda used to blow the trumpet and his charm would cause the elephants to dance in confusion and become “sitting ducks” as they killed them.

Mumeri decided to marry off his daughter to Chainda. The daughter’s brother was called Chiringaringa. But chainda was under an oath not to touch a woman, so he ceded her to his cousin Rakawota. As they became more settled, they decided to ask their parents in Hwedza to join them and settle in Rusvingo. Mumeri, who was also known as Chirichoga or Nemanwa allowed them to bring their parents and settle in Rusvingo. They brought Sinamano the father and his brothers, as well as other prominent leaders such as Nguwo (a.k.a Bika), Nematukununu, Nyakunhuhwa and Nezvigaro. This group propagated into the totem/clan known as vaNhinhi. The clan was named after the hill they had made their headquarters, which is called Nhinhihuru. Although Sinamano was the father figure, the prominent leader of the group was Chainda. He shared power with Nguvo who was commonly known as Bika (cook) because of his prowess at concocting different charms. Legend has it that Bika could make a fire on top of a thatched hut and roast his meat there without burning the hut. He gave his dog some charm that made it capable of killing bull elephants easily. There are also claims that, all predators would shy away from attacking Chainda, Bika and their fellow hunters when they met them in the bush because of the repelling charm they possessed. Hungry prides of lions would pass them as they roasted their day’s kill for dinner. I must warn the reader here, that VaNhinhi, including living ones today, have a well-known penchant for exaggerating!

The group was not always united. For instance, Nyakunhuhwa went on to define his own totem as Shumba Chipamutoro or Jichidza and settled in present day Zaka district. There were other minor splits that led to other small shumba groups that proliferate the Masvingo area up to today.

Chainda and his people and their descendants became very useful to Nemanwa’s fights with other tribes that were competing for the control of the ancient city of Zimbabwe. It is not known at what point Chainda took over Nemanwa’s daughter who he had ceded to Rakawota, but in due course he had several wives including Chiringaringa’s daughters and many children. Together with other VaNhinhi families, they had a strong army that helped factions in disputes over the control of Great Zimbabwe.

Chainda and his clan were not interested in the control of Zimbabwe but would help one group or the other, with the result that they played a big role in ousting Mugabe of the VaDuma clan from Great Zimbabwe. That was also the beginning of their carving of a territory for themselves and stretching all sides from their original settlement of Nhinhihuru.

The Europeans who wrote about the great Zimbabwe mentioned the VaNhinhi many times. Karl Mauch who is known as the first European to record sighting of the ancient city had several mentions of Chief Charumbira with various misspellings. The European who showed Karl Mauch the ruins, was Adam Render.  Render had settled in the area and is said to have married a local woman. Karl Mauch, records the wife as the daughter of Pika, a corruption of the name Bika. Other writers like Render’s son, refute his marriage to local women. But it is clear Render, a hunter and fortune seeker, had settled among the VaNhinhi hunters. He probably also benefited from their hunting prowess and shared notes.

VaNhinhi were quite ritualist like most of the people at that time. So most of the places they occupied became “sacred”.  They had different sacred sites for purposes such as rain making and burying royalty such as Barapate. Mauch also briefly delved in the VaNhinhi myths by trying to locate the mystic pot (pfuko yaNevanji, which was also known as pfuko dzaKuvanji) at Mufurawasha hill in vain. All hills in the lands that VaNhinhi  annexed  were considered sacred; Nyanda, Magari, Mufurawasha, Ruvhure etc. and they are mentioned in their praise poetry to emphasise their ownership.

The other records, that are corroborated by oral history are of the VaNhinhi participating in wars for control of the Great Zimbabwe city. In one instance, Mugabe was ousted from the city by the Manwa people with the help of Chainda but the shrine kept on changing hands. Chainda started to carve a territory gaining land from all surrounding chiefs that included his in-law, Nemanwa, Mugabe, Mapanzure, Shumba, Bere and Chivi. Although, they had come from Hwedza as people of the Svosve Mbire or Shoko/Tsoko totem, Chainda’s people were by now known as of the Shumba (lion) (i)Sipambi, meaning the lion that does not loot, (probably in reference to their disinterest in Great Zimbabwe and that they were getting land as a reward for their fighting prowess). This, despite the fact that, it is also clear, they carved their territory out of other people’s land.

The prominent names among Chainda’s children were sons, Makoti, Marombedze, Chitanda, Mudavose, Mudavanhu and Musundiwa. Chainda allocated them different pieces of land to settle as his heirs. By the time of his death, he had gained all power of the clan and was considered as the chief. Thus, a chieftaincy had been formed to rival other groups around the area complete with a governance structure led by Chainda.

Chainda’s leadership was inherited by one of his son Mudavanhu. Although, he was not the eldest there were some ritual omissions and commissions that ended up with him taking the leadership. In the end, it is Chainda’s spirit that possessed a family member and named Mudavanhu the heir as he had been disappointed by the heir-apparent Makoti. This is one version, while the other was that, when mothers of some of the brothers were approached, as was the custom, they had refused to have their sons take over Chainda’s reigns because they did not want their sons to also inherit his powerful charms (makona, which sometimes were viewed negatively as they could cause both good and harm).

Mudavanhu continued his father’s legacy as a hunter-warrior. He increased the original territory and became famous. It is the fame that gave him the name “Charumbira”. “Kurumbira” or “kukurumbira” is to be famous in Karanga language. Charumbira, that is, the famous one’s other nick-name was “Chikumbwe” which is a black cricket, assumedly because of his dark complexion. He had many sons organised into 8 houses for the purpose of taking turns in chieftainship. It is only the leaders of these “houses” and their offsprings who take turns to the chieftainship.

The women among the VaNhinhi play pivotal roles. The spirit medium of Chainda was once possessing Chitema, his daughter. The honorific for addressing VaNhinhi women is “VaCharu”, as in short for Charumbira. An even higher honorific is VaChana which depicts the most honoured “sister/auntie” of the clan. The women are normally consulted to provide counsel in difficult situations in the Karanga tradition of vatete (aunt), who gives mazano (advice). Spinsters and married women can also be honourably addressed as “MaSibanda”, adopted from the Ndebele language. For both ritual and social purposes, the women are consulted but they always remain in the background. Their children, the nephews (vazukuru) to VaNhinhi, are highly revered and play a roving ambassador role, settling family disputes and performing rituals.

Charumbira’s power was later partly neutralised by the arrival of the Matabele, who had superior war methods and were easily overrunning most of the Shona-speaking tribes. Many of his people were also taken as hostages and incorporated into the Matabele impis (warrior regiments)This was done to all clans and most never returned and were assimilated into the present days Ndebele tribes as part of the Sibanda totem.

In later years, under the rulership of Mudavanhu’s children, the European colonialists came. The clan was weak then, and cooperated with them. During the process of colonisation, the Europeans tried to understand and re-organise the chieftainship inheritance of all local tribes. It was and still remains chaotic. In the case of Charumbira, they put on record the 8 houses but like most traditional leaderships in Zimbabwe, things have never been the same for the Charumbira clan. This, however, is not the subject of this work.

Mudzimbasekwa – My Lineage.

Among the chieftainship “houses” is one led by Mudzimbasekwa. Mudzimbasekwa was a prince through and through as his mother was Princess Gawa, one of the two daughters of Tavengegweyi, the founder of the Shumba Chivi-Mhari dynasty and paramount Chief in present day Chivi District. Mudzimbasekwa was given land to settle by Tavengegweyi, his maternal grandfather, at Chivhuraugwe Hill in the then Masunda area of Chivi, about 60km south of present day city of Masvingo. He lived there for some years before the advent of colonialism until he was called back to take his turn at chieftainship. He ruled the VaNhinhi clan and died before the colonisation of Zimbabwe. After his death, his children, led by the eldest, Chisveto settled within the Charumbira territory at Vadanda River about 30km along the present day Masvingo-Beit Bridge highway, near Tugwi River, that demarcates into Chivi District.

Chisveto, the leader of the family died there and leadership of the family went to his young brother Rugiyo. The other brothers were Mufara and Nhukudu. The land was allocated to Europeans during colonisation and a white man, who our elders only knew as Chijaka took over. He allowed them to stay but was using their sons as forced labour (commonly known as chibharo in Karanga), taking them to work for free at his other farm in Beit Bridge area. Rugiyo’s sons, Chabwenya (est. dob 1900) and Kwangware (est. dob 1906) and Mufara’s son Mapombwa (est. dob 1906) were always exploited this way by Chijaka. The exploitation intensified after the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and it is around this time that Rugiyo led the family away from Chijaka’s farm. Rugiyo, Mufara and Nhukudu’s families sought refuge with their aunt’s family, the Zivhu’s (Hungwe), who had some land under Chief Chivi. Chinjiki, Mudzimbasekwa’s sister was the matriarch of the Zivhu family. Nhukudu moved back to settle at Nhinhihuru in waiting for the Mudzimbabsekwa house’s next turn at chieftainship. His son, Kanganisai (dob 1922) went with the rest of the family to Chivi. The brothers seemed to have gotten tired of the squabbles that often accompanied succession but passed oral history of the “house”’s claim. They however kept in touch and the family has always been part of succession discussions.

Rugiyo died while the family was hosted by Zivhu. Because, the Zivhu family lived near Chibi Mission of the Dutch Reformed Church, Kwangware gained enough education to become a helper (African teacher) to other villagers. Him, together with Mufara’s son, Kwandi (est dob 1911) became the literate members of the family. They were close friends to Mhere Zivhu (est. dob 1885), their cousin, who had seen the pioneer column as a young herd boy. Muzukuru Mhere Zivhu, who had also briefly attended Chivi Mission contributed a lot with the oral history of the family. I often had unrecorded interviews with him which I regret to have taken too lightly. He lived up to 1980 which means he had a possible full century or more of life. Mufara inherited most of his brothers’ wives and with one of them had other children including sons, Bvakacha, Mandivamba, Svodziwa and Vunganai. Mudzimbasekwa’s sons had many daughters who they married off as per tradition. Most were married in chieftain and village headman families as it was known that we were also royal. They had great deep Karanga names such as Punha, Tetesva, Maroyi, Gugwayi, Chirinde, Musiyiwa, Mandivona, Mativone, Maribha etc.

After staying with the Zivhus for some time Rugiyo died and Mufara became the leader of the family. He thought of taking the family back to Chivhuraugwe Hill, the place that Tavengegweyi had given his grandson Mudzimbabsekwa, Mufara’s father. On his way, he passed through Chief Masunda area. He passed by a harvest beer feast where he learnt that Chief Masunda’s area was being demarcated. The original Chief Masunda’s mother was a Charumbira clan daughter and by virtues of that all the Masundas revered all Charumbiras, male and female as their “mothers”. The Masunda who was taking the western area of the division was called Zvakavapano. He offered Mufara an area to settle as one of the village heads or Sabuku. Thus, he did not proceed to Chivhuraugwe, but Mufara village was founded and is presently located along the Tugwane River, adjacent to the Masvingo-Beit Bridge Road about 50km from the city. At the time of settling there, Rugiyo’s remaining son was Kwangware after Chabwenya had died. Kwangware, later led his and Chabwenya’s family to settle in Chiware area under Chief Takavarasha in Chivi, along the Runde River that border Zishavane’s Mazvihwa Communal lands.

Nhukudu, who had remained in waiting for the chieftainship lived until 1971. The story is that an inauguration date had been set for 3rdJanuary, 1972 but he unfortunately died on 31stDecember, 1971.

Meanwhile, the Mudzimbabsekwa family has multiplied but are all settled in Chivi, far away from Chainda’s land. Many more VaNhinhi are all over the country and the world at large.

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[1]Dynast History Book 4: The Shumba Sibanda Dynasties, 2016.

[2]There is a lot of controversy and revisionism around this totem issue and some clansmen get sensitive about it; adamant that we have never been of shoko totem.

[3]List may not be exhaustive (some say they were 32 sons). Highlights depict the rotating “houses”. Authors lineage in yellow.

 

5 thoughts on “VaNhinhi – My Family Tree

  1. Interesting read,met some familiar present day names there………#Gwanetsa im down the line of Bika 🙂🙂🙂

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    1. Thanks my brother. I am still learning. Your perspective is very enriching. I would like to learn more as our elders told many conflicting stories, sometimes very self-serving. What is clear there is when we settled in Masvingo Bika & Chainda were quite powerful. The totem issue is the most confusing maybe because of the sojourn in Hwedza and the records at National Archives that claims it is our elders who gave the info to the colonialists that we were once Shoko.

      With names, again I agree I can easily get them wrong although I tried a lot.

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  2. I have not agreed with a number of things in this historical record. The Shumba Charumbira clan are children of Nehoreka and of the Shumba totem. Nenguwo and Bika are two different people, Nenguwo remained in Hwedza and is also originally from Nehoreka. Bika and not Chainda was the first to reach Masvingo and is the one who first got a place there though Chainda was the elder brother. Bika wanted his brother to take the chiftainship but he died before this was done and Bika gave the chieftains to the eldest son of his elder brother Chainda. This is why to this present day the Bika people does not have a turn in the Charumbira chieftainship but are viewed as father who are consulted, it’s because Bika surrendered it to his brother’s son and from then all Bikas play the role of fathers while the other houses take turns as chiefs. Check your history again from Mutoko. If you are truly a Charumbira, you are never a Svosve, you are Shumba Nyamuzihwa, son of Nehoreka, son of Dehwe, son of Musakadongo…then comes Chainda, Bika, Nezvigaro, and Nemazuhwa. Ndidzo dzimba dzemadzibaba edu kwacharumbira idzi.

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