• Culture Fund



Keynote Address by Pathisa Nyathi at the International Conference on Communication and Information Science held at the Rainbow Towers Hotel from 21-23 August 2018 on 21 August 2018

1 Introduction

African culture and heritage, however we may wish to define them, have suffered from demonization, denigration and defamation from the gatekeepers of scholarship and academy and, more often than not, Africans themselves have become willing proxies in the vilification vendetta largely driven by some self-allocated sense of racial superiority. The early white missionaries and their allies, the native commissioners, concentrated on observable cultural practices that they experienced and accorded themselves the rare honour and accolade of being experts on African culture and heritage. It is my well considered view that African culture and heritage go beyond mere observation of cultural practices to embrace deep-seated cosmologies and worldview that emanate from realities and perceptions of the cosmos or the universe or the heavens. The thrust of this paper is to unpack the three-tier African cultural expressions that assist towards a better informed understanding of African culture and heritage. I do acknowledge that there are people who do not believe there is something we may term African Philosophy or African Thought. This has come about as a result of erroneously thinking that the African mind is primitive, backward and incapable of dealing in abstract thought.

Sustainable development is possible when a people’s culture and heritage are given space to define development, make relevant and meaningful choices and inform and underpin development methodologies, policies and strategies to executed. Culture and heritage provide the tools with which communities expand frontiers of knowledge. In the process, the communities leave behind indelible footprints in the sands of history. Cultural identity results in a community’s sense and feeling of rootedness, sense of purpose and direction, assertiveness and positive ego, all of which are important motivators for the community to tackle challenging situations as they seek to improve their lives and seek to attain higher levels of development.

The thrust of this presentation is to identify the starting point when we seek to understand African culture and heritage, namely the cosmos or the heavens or the universe. This is the highest material/physical level which provides objective and concrete reality that, when keenly observed, African Cosmology flows out of. African Cosmology, which we may alternatively refer to as African Thought or African Worldview is the seminal source of African beliefs and African Philosophy that underpin cultural practices. Community members are imbued with African Cosmology are predisposed to behave in a particular way.

Behind every cultural practice there is some underpinning belief or cosmology. Artistic expressions and cultural practices are explained and interpreted in terms of underlying cosmology, thought and worldview. This is the lowest level that the early white missionaries got themselves involved in. And yet this is the third and final tier of cultural expressions. Art is expressive culture and, when properly integrated, reveals the underpinning cosmology or worldview which created it. Artistic renditions emerge out of and are informed by underpinning cosmologies which in turn are derived from the material cosmos whose attributes Africans have gleaned over millennia and, in the process, sought to replicate the heavens at the cultural plane. “As above, so below.” “Let thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The three tier cultural expressions of culture and heritage hold hope for some objective understanding of African culture and heritage. Creativity is a mental process which occurs within the confines of, and is conditioned by, African Thought or African Worldview. Continuity, eternity and endlessness are concepts that Africans identified in the cosmos and sought to replicate on earth within the cultural plane. The three concepts are concretized through certain attributes of cosmic entities, be they stellar, planetary or lunar bodies. It is to these that I now turn. What emerges is that Africans have sought to attain continuity for the human species. It is the manifestations of these ideas that link with sexuality which is ubiquitous within the context of African culture and heritage. Nature provided the building template for African culture which sought to mirror the cosmos.

2.1 In the Beginning There Was the Cosmos and the Circle was in the Cosmos

“As above, so below.” Above is the cosmos and below is the earth where humanity resides. “Let thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Looking at an African performance, particularly a dance, I see the cosmos. Looking at African architecture, I see the heavens. Looking at African sculpture, I see the universe. Dance, sculpture and architecture are artistic forms that may be termed cultural expressions. It does seem therefore, that Africa has always sought to replicate the heavens on earth. This has been after Africans gleaned certain cosmic attributes which they sought to copy and reproduce. The question is, “What were those characteristics that were gleaned and understood as cosmic attributes worth repeating at the cultural plane on earth?” It is my well considered view that the heavens possess a myriad of characteristics which are discerned against the night sky.

2.1.1 The Circle and Circularity

Both the sun and the moon have been observed as having a circular form or design. From West Africa right down to southern Africa, the circle is perceived as having no beginning and no end. It thus symbolizes continuity, eternity, endlessness, immortality and perpetuity. Equally, Africa observed that the circle is the universal building block for the cosmos. The cosmos is without straight lines and right angles. At the biological level, Africans have sought to attain continuity for their own human species. It was against this background that I coined the expression, “Individuals perish, humanity is forever.” The universe has been around for at least 14 Billion years and from a perspective of human time frame in terms of existence on the planet, this translates to eternity and endlessness. Africa thought that was good, and worth emulating.

Not only did Africans seek to acquire for themselves the enviable attribute of eternity and continuity, they went further to use the circular form within the cultural plane. Their architecture was informed by the same design, the circle. Houses, cattle byres village layout and everything the African ever made was based on the circular form. Observed natural form inspired cultural designs. Great Zimbabwe is one such cultural edifice that has no straight lines and no rectangles. Its design is based on the circle. We should not be baffled by the enormity of the stone walls. What matters more at Great Zimbabwe is how dressed stones have been arranged in space. Their arrangement is Pan-African. Other African communities have used reeds, grass, clay and wood but retaining the same circular design. Quite evidently the common denominator is circularity with a common meaning or message throughout the whole of Black Africa.

2.1.2 Movement and Cyclicality

All heavenly bodies are in constant motion or movement. The universe is said to be moving out even today. Nearer home, it is easy to see the movement of the moon. Equally, the sun’s motion is visible and understood, hence reference to its rising and setting. Geography tells us that cosmic bodies move in elliptical orbits, which approximate the circle. Rotation and revolution are typical movements of celestial bodies. Circular design is associated with and makes movement possible. This is the idea behind invention of the wheel which was no more than acknowledgement of cosmic reality and adopting and adapting it at the cultural technological plane. The universe is thus characterized by the two complementary attributes of circularity and cyclicality. Both attributes have been adopted at the cultural front. Dance routines and choreography among the Apostolic Faith adherents is informed by the two complementary phenomena. Their dance routine executes both rotation and revolution of the earth. The dancers themselves may not even know the inspiration behind their spiritual performance.

2.1.3 Rhythm

What ought be emerging is that ancient Africans were keen observers of nature and sought to copy it. Movement of stellar bodies, be it rotation or revolution, was not haphazard. Instead, the movement was regular, periodic, seasonal and therefore characterized by predictability. Rhythm is a characteristic of the cosmos. A circle has the same attribute of rhythm as movement is inherent in it. The circular walls at Great Zimbabwe thus display some sense of rhythm or regular movement.

At the cultural level, rhythm is pretty obvious. African dances are characterized by intense rhythm. Multiple rhythm or polyrhythm is an important aspect of African performances. Both drumming and clapping enhance rhythm. As I often say, Africans did not invent rhythm in their various cultural manifestations. They merely copied cosmic reality. In nature, rhythm takes various forms: wake-sleep, left-right(walking), winter-summer, day-night. Climatic change, essentially, is as a result of tempering with the rhythm of the earth with dire consequences for humanity as the earth, thrown into disequilibrium and threatened rhythm, seeks to recover lost attributes such as regularity and seasonality. Constant change seems to be a universal attribute and Africans embraced this concept in their culture.

Nearer home, there is the lunar rhythm resulting from regular lunar movement. It is movement that is associated with rebirth, renewal and regeneration. The emergence of a new moon is accompanied by excited incantations which are a celebration of a new, regular and patterned beginning which ensures continuity and eternity.

Howa mwedzi wagala,

Wagala panaduntule

The incantation by the Bakalanga of south western Zimbabwe is a celebration of promised life being ushered in through the emergence of a new moon. On the other hand, Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, upon viewing the new crescent moon in the western sky, shout joyously,


Hamba lomkhuhlane.

The message in these incantations is identical, it is a message of hope that with the emergence of the new moon, diseases will dissipate, having been taken away by the moon. The moon brings forth light which drives away darkness a condition preferred by witches who visit death, threaten life, to members of the community.

Birth-growth/development-degeneration(decay)-death-rebirth….ad infinitum. This is cyclicality which lies at the root of what Africans posit as the eternal cycle of life which is characterized by eternity, continuity and endlessness beyond the human level. Apparently the same cycle exists at the level of human beings. A cycle, like a circle, has no beginning and no end. A lot of African cultural practices are informed by the two complementary attributes of circularity and cyclicality.

2.1.4 Repetition

Repetition is another attribute of the cosmos that Africans observed and replicated in their own world of culture. Implied in repetition is movement, and regular movement at that. Seasonality, periodicity and rhythm are concepts that express repetitive movement. Left-right, day-night, winter-summer, sleep-wake should be understood as examples of repetition in nature which Africans reproduced in their world of culture. At the macro level, the village layout is circular. At the micro level, a house is circular and finally, at the sub-micro level, the hearth is also circular.

2.1.5 Curvilinearity

Curvilinearity is associated and gleaned during certain lunar phases. The crescent moon holds hope for a new life, and a new beginning. A full moon develops out of a crescent moon. In any case, a crescent is part of a reconfigured circle with its meaning of eternity, continuity and endlessness. There are other reconfigured circular forms such as the following: the chessboard, chevron, dentelle, herring bone, spiral and the whorl. The chevron shall be dealt with more exhaustively when another form of attaining eternity, continuity and endlessness, namely sexuality, is considered.

2.2 African Cosmology

Out of observations of the cosmos and its attributes, there was born African Cosmology, African Philosophy inspired by cosmic reality. Other similar terms that may be used are African Worldview and African Beliefs. These form the second tier of cultural expressions and constitute the silent and invisible but pervasive underpinnings for cultural practices and artistic expressions. African Cosmology or African Thought flow out of cosmic observations. They directly inform the lowest level of cultural expressions, namely the cultural practices and their artistic expressions. Sadly, failure to identify and recognize the cogency of African Thought has resulted in unjustified criminalization and demonization of African culture. Efforts to change cultural practices are best targeted at the level of beliefs or worldview which give life and currency to cultural practices and artistic expressions. African cultural practices, be they positive or negative, stand solidly and defiantly on the pillars of African Cosmology or African Thought. Alternative cosmologies have been responsible for the erosion of African Culture. It is against this background that I have termed African cities slaughter houses or abattoirs and cemeteries of African Culture. Where pillars of African Culture face onslaught, things begin to fall apart as the centre can no longer hold.

2.3 Artistic Expressions and African Cultural Practices

I now move to the final tier in cultural expressions. This is the tier that is understood by many of us as constituting African Culture. This is the level of cultural practices, customs and traditions. It is the level within which the early white missionaries and native commissioners, and sadly, many of us today focus enquiry and research. Many anthropological studies are awash with mechanical descriptions of what is termed African Culture. The pitfall in this approach is that it deals with the visible tip of the African cultural iceberg which is about a third of the cultural phenomena in their broadest sense. Both cosmic attributes and their working arm, African Cosmology are not given the attention and priority that they rightly deserve. Only when the question “Why?” is posed with regard to cultural practices, do we begin to unpack the phenomenology of African Culture. We are Africans, not on account of our skin hue, nor our residence on the African continent. Rather, it is our View of the World, our Thought and Philosophy that give us our Pan-African identity. A man is no more or less than his view of the world or his beliefs, values and ideals. Seeming differences are as a result of ecology when African Cosmology is tempered on the anvil of environmental reality.

When cosmological underpinnings are unraveled, we begin to approach cultural practices with caution, circumspection and, in the process, avoid judgments based on self-seeking superiority complexes and prejudices. Seek ye first to understand the worldview that sustains a particular practice. Seek always to get into the mind of the African, rather than his shoes, for he never had shoes but always had the mind that created his cultural practices on the basis of his conditioning African Cosmology and African Thought.

Having interrogated the three-tier expressions of African Culture, we are now in a position to deal with sexuality. We are now better placed to appreciate the basis for the ubiquity and perversity of sexuality in African Culture. We should conveniently understand it as the counterpart of cosmic attributes referred to above. The major difference though is that at human level, indeed at the level of both flora and fauna, eternity, continuity and endlessness are attained through sexuality. Sexuality occurs at the natural plane. As is the case with cosmic attributes, it is then replicated at the cultural plane. We thus should be able to see elements of continuity and eternity depicted both as sexuality and attributes of cosmic reality. Of course we should never lose sight of the fact that both flora and fauna are part of the natural world and are not exempt from attributes of the natural cosmos.

3.1 Sexuality

Eternity, continuity and endlessness, as pointed out above, may be attained through the attributes referred to above. However, with reference to human beings, continuity is achieved through sexual reproduction. Axiology demands that sexuality be approached through avoidance of vulgarity, obscenity and sexual vividness. However, sexuality cannot be avoided, so it has to be negotiated with minimum anti-social vividness and social tenacity. Sexuality is an issue that has to be presented in a manner that does not invoke ideas of immoral decadence.

As a result, there are ways in which matters sexual are handled, methods that are of a soft nature such as recourse to artistic expressions including dances, symbolism, images and metaphors which communicate effortlessly without raising alarm and despondency. Sexuality is captured in two elements, male and female. Either the two occur together as at Great Zimbabwe , the Zimbabwe national flag or the Zimbabwe Bird. This is at the cultural level. At the natural level, the two elements may occur together as is the case in some trees where a flower has both male and female elements. There are instances when the two elements occur in separated trees and plants. Trees that carry male elements are referred to as barren while those bearing female elements are said to be reproductive. This happens to be the case on the cultural plane.

3.1.1 Sexuality in the Great Enclosure at Great Zimbabwe

Let us deal initially with the Great Enclosure at the Great Zimbabwe Monument. The Conical Tower is, without doubt, symbolic of a phallus, a male sex organ. It is cylindrical in shape with a dentelle near the top which represents the glans. Practical demands for stability resulted in it being somewhat broader towards the base to push the centre of gravity lower down. Builders in stone possessed an intimate knowledge of human anatomy. The cylindrical structure does not complete a picture of the male element. Two testes, crafted out of stone, were thus provided whose positions in relation to the penal representation, is anatomically accurate. Sadly, one constructed stone testis has collapsed. German treasure hunter and geologist Karl Mauch tempered with the top part of the phallus. A representation of a complete phallus was reconstructed and the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare. However, it has to be realized that the phallic structure is upside down for practical architectural reasons as it would otherwise have to hang from the air.

Apparently, the representation and expression of the female sex organ is provided by the circle. The two opposite and complementary elements provide a complete picture which represents and symbolizes sexuality and hence resulting continuity eternity and endlessness. That the concept was wrought in stone with its solidity, reinforces the idea of continuity. The Rock of Ages brings to the fore the very idea of continuity as rock defies the agency of elements. The lithic cultural edifice has been around for longer than two thousand years. Here is a case where sexuality was manifested through architecture, an art form not as vivid as portraying the real sexual organs, particularly the female ones which are revered and taboo, more than their male counterparts. This is a good example of traversing the treacherous field of sexual vividness and explicitness which run in the face of morality and ethics.

3.1.2 The Zimbabwe Bird

Arguably this is the highest form of artistic excellence designed to conceal and skirt sexual vulgarity and obscenity. As was the case with the Great Enclosure, both male and female elements occur together. A bird was created out of symbolized parts of both male and female genitalia. Knowledge of both anatomy and culture is a prerequisite to a full appreciation and understanding of the disguised bird.

The creators used building blocks from both male and female genitalia to come up with a bird that is artistically concealed and disguised but at the same time bringing out the desired meaning and message-that of sexuality and its underlying concept of continuity, eternity and endlessness. Africa always knew that in order to ensure the perpetuity of its own kind, there had to be recourse to sexual reproduction in order to express and represent the same idea as found in human beings and other forms of flora and fauna.

We may just give some cultural information relating to female labia which, in some cultures, are actually referred to as wings. Indeed, the Zimbabwe Bird, in order for it to qualify as a bird, had to have the two wings. As might be well known, among Africans, labia were pulled ostensibly for the pleasure of both partners during the sexual act. The man played with his partner’s sexual toys. A woman with un-extended labia had her organ referred to as chikari/isikali(Interview with Lawrence Jenjezwa 11 July 2003. Bulawayo).

Let us also refer to swearing that is common among Africans. We need to know that Africans will swear in anatomical terms by referring to the targeted person’s genitals or his/her mother’s or father’s genitals. However, for the purposes of this presentation we shall refer to the lighter stuff; “Ntamo kayihlo!” Your father’s neck. “Mlomo kanyoko!” Your mother’s mouth. Both the mouth and the neck re used metaphorically and may not be interchanged. The neck is associated with a father and the mouth with a mother. In both instances, the seemingly innocent anatomical organs refer to sexuality, the neck for the man is the penis and the mouth for the mother is her is her vagina. It turns out that the Zimbabwe Bird has a neck which will now be better appreciated as representing and expressing the male sex organ. I will leave you to identify the other parts of the Zimbabwe Bird, always being alert to the fact that the bird is a representation and expression of the ubiquitous sexuality in African culture.

The perversity of images of sexuality at Great Zimbabwe persuade one to ask what the cultural edifice was built for. I am persuaded to think the vast walls should not confound us into thinking of them in terms of expressions of political power, authority and socio-economic status. Even before we are done with the expressions of sexuality, we may begin to isolate sexuality as the overarching theme at Great Zimbabwe. What that expresses is now in the public domain. We need to deal with yet another decorative motif so as to show the ubiquity of expressions of sexuality at Great Zimbabwe.

3.1.3 The Chevron Pattern

This is a pattern that has grossly been misunderstood and misinterpreted. When its structure and meaning are fully and accurately appreciated, it will be realized that the chevron pattern complements the theme that has emerged so far. We need to deal initially with elements of African Aesthetics or Beauty. The same attributes gleaned in the cosmos are elements of African Aesthetics: circularity, curvilinearity, equilibrium, symmetry, repetition, movement and rhythm. The chevron pattern consists of several individual units. Each unit is a open V or a triangle. A single V does not inspire or carry beauty. As a result, Africans repeated each unit to produce a pattern that is awesome and visually enticing. More importantly, we need to know the inspiration of the V: the body of woman! Precisely it is that part of her which contains the womb and extends from the vulva/vagina to embrace the belly button. That is the biological site where continuity of the human species is effected or concretized. Fertilization and the development of the zygote take place in the womb, our entry point into this world. The chevron thus effectively mediates the otherwise treacherous landscape of sexual vulgarity and obscenity.

There have been interpretations of the chevron pattern as representing and symbolizing a snake. The weakness in this interpretation is failure to see the unit within a pattern, with the latter being viewed as a whole, hence the interpretation of the pattern as representing a snake. Further, the basic unit has so acute an angle which a reptile like a snake with a backbone cannot execute! Finally, the chevron pattern sometimes has discs or blobs directly above the down-facing apex. If the chevron pattern is a snake as suggested by Professor Thomas Huffman(1996), it is impossible to explain this phenomenon which is outside the body of a snake. It however makes sense when it is seen as a woman’s belly button which anatomically is directly above the down-facing apex. What is critically important is that the chevron motif is a fertility symbol associated more with women than men. After all, a male’s role is restricted to introducing sperms and, by and large, his role ends there. No wonder, after mating some female insects turn around and devour their male partners, in the process making some seminal biological statement that, ” Hey mate, your role ends here and you might as well become protein for our offspring.”

If the womb is that critically important in the process of effecting continuity, one needs not wonder that the chevron pattern is found only on part of the Great Enclosure wall at Great Zimbabwe where the narrow entrance created by the double walls and the presence of the Conical Tower all lie in the same position with regard to the position in the Great Enclosure wall. Where suggestions have been made that the Great Enclosure is representative and expressive of a womb is not farfetched. Everything falls in line as part of expressions of sexuality and hence continuity, eternity and endlessness.

While we refer to a chevron motif and pattern, we should be cognizant of the fact that a both are a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional reality. This suggests that a chevron motif is, in actual fact, a cone which essentially is a circle of increasing or decreasing diameter or radii, depending on where one starts, top or bottom. We are thus back to the contention that the circle is the basic universal or cosmic building block. Other decorative motifs are reconfigurations of the circle and carry the same meaning-continuity, eternity and endlessness.

3.1.4 The Zimbabwe National Flag

Given the journey we have travelled so far with regard to interpreting Great Zimbabwe as embracing pervasive sexuality, the Zimbabwe national flag, alongside those of South Africa and Mozambique, are easy to see as expressive of sexuality. The white triangle is the part of a woman’s body which bears the womb, which is the critical anatomical site where continuity is effected. Here is a case where both male and female elements occur together. The black band, two dimensional on a two dimensional surface, is actually cylindrical and therefore expressive of a phallus and is accurately depicted entering the vagina, at the apex of the white triangle. Further, the presence of the Zimbabwe Bird within the triangle reinforces the message of sexuality and hence continuity, eternity and endlessness which are resident on the Zimbabwe national flag.

By the way, two interlocking triangles constitute the Star of David where the down-facing triangle is male while the up-facing triangle is female.

3.1.5 Jerusarema Mbende Dance/Mayile Dance

The Jerusarema Mbende Dance of Murewa and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwa is performed by dancers in pairs; one male and the other female. The two vigorously wriggle their waists as they move advance towards each other in a sexually suggestive and explicit way. The two just fall short of bringing their waits into some erotic encounter. That the dance is sexually suggestive is too obvious. It was as a result of its sexual explicitness that it was banned during the colonial era only to resurface when its name was christened as Jerusarema and more acceptable as it carried a Christian nuance. It is a dance that, through sexual expression, carries the message of continuity and eternity and in the process celebrates successful harvests.

A rain dance known as mayile is performed by the Bakalanga to mitigate severe droughts when other interventions have come to naught, including visits to rain making shrines such as Njelele Shrine and its subordinates. As the name suggests, the dance is taboo, koyila, in that it should not be performed in the presence of men. Women in the nude gather and move around while beating drums. Men run for dear life when they encounter the dancing women. As the women dance, their bottoms are inclined upwards as if to sexually stimulate and entice some invisible man in the heavens. As their dance works towards reaches a crescendo, the heavenly man finally reaches maximum sexual stimulation and reaches orgasm upon which he ejaculates. His ejaculation represents/symbolizes falling rain. Once again, real and imagined female and male elements come into play not only as expressions of sexuality but also as metaphors of a sexual act that results in the falling of the much needed rain.

3.1.6 Iron Smelting Process

What in the western world is viewed as a chemical process during which iron oxide is reduced to iron is, in African terms, expressed in sexual and cultural terms. There are male and female aspects to the two component parts. The female element is the furnace which assumes femininity in that it is sometimes provided with breasts and scarification marks which are typical of women in some African communities. The symbolized woman’s body has short legs with a central aperture representing the end of a birth canal through which molten iron, representing a baby being delivered, flows(is born).

The male element comprises goat skin bellows which pump air into the female furnace. The working up and down of the skin bellows is akin to the sexual act with its rhythmic thrusts. The air is delivered into the female furnace by a clay blow pipe, which links the male side to the female one. The blow pipe is thus symbolic of the male sex organ. The sexual act is further reinforced by the fact that the chosen site for iron smelting is carried out in a private and inaccessible place. Privacy is essential during the sexual act and no person is allowed to venture into the private site, other than the iron workers themselves. Continuity, eternity and endlessness are embraced within the sexual expressions. Where there are technological shortcomings, ideas of sexuality take over as iron smelting, a chemical and technological process assumes sexual manifestations.

Ideas of sexuality are taken further when iron nodules from the smelting site are collected and spread in a crop field where they, it is believed, impart fertility attributes to the crops. High crop yields are synonymous with sustainability and productivity. Sexuality guarantees continuity hence the fertility-infused nodules are made use of to symbolically transfer to crop production the attributes of sexuality which guarantee continuity, eternity and endlessness.

3.1.7 Ritual Killing

Products of sexuality/procreation guarantee continuity of the human species. This, in other terms, relates to sustainability. In the business world, entrepreneurs expect productivity or sustainability in their business operations. In terms of African Thought or African Cosmology, the success story of sexuality is applied when male and female sexual parts of victims are extracted and spiritually manipulated by qualified traditional doctors to transfer sustainability from the sexual front to the business front. The male and female genitals that are obtained must be from sexually active and reproductive individuals as virility is of the essence in that success rests on it. Once again, it is the simulation of sexuality that is at work, being reproduced or replicated on a different front. This is African Thought at work and continues to drive and sustain ritual killing to this day. What is important though is to appreciate the cosmological underpinnings that drive, justify and sustain the practice.

3.1.8 Sexuality in totemism

Totems and totemism are an integral part of Central and Southern Africa Bantu. Their nature and thrust make them relevant to this presentation as they are characterized by constant reference to sexuality. Totemism, by its very nature, negotiates the treacherous terrain of sexuality by using powerful images and metaphors which, at face value, seem innocent or less innocuous by avoiding vulgarity and obscenity, especially to the uninitiated. Here is a case where there is direct reference to sexuality which distinguishes between male and female members of a clan. A particular clan has its bloodline extended through recourse to sexual reproduction. Those who provide such an important biological service are thanked during and after the act, nhetembo dzemugudza. For once, sexuality takes centre stage when its critical role in effecting continuity, eternity and endlessness of the human species take centre stage. The men, true to patriarchal communities, have totems that deal with the history of the lineage by identifying names of prominent male ancestors, mountains and rivers that they were associated with, where they lived and almost invariably, the sexual exploits of their totemic animal.

Here is an example of madanha(said by a woman to a Tembo Mazvimbakupa, Chihota man):

Hekani Muzomba wangu yuyu, Thank you my dear man from Zomba

Varume vangu,(All men of the clan that I married)

Mune hobvu,( You have such a thick one),

Inoti ndikainzi vi,(And when I am struck by it),

Ndapfidza,( I complain no more),

Muranda wedako,(Slave of the buttock).

(Nyamutswa, 2018)

Here is an example of a praise poem(chirevereve) recited by a man thanking a Dziva/Siziba woman:

Katsime katenderere, ( A small round pool)

Kanetsanga nyoro, (With a moist reed),

Kanonwiwa mvura munhu akapfugama,( One drinks water from it while kneeling down)

Kadziva kasingapwe,(The small pool that never dries out)

Nyamutswa, 2018)

4 Conclusion

The one idea that emerges clearly from the expose is ubiquity of sexuality in African Culture, ranging from African architecture, sculpture, totemism, iron smelting technology, fabrics, painting, rain-making rituals such as mayile of the Bakalanga, traditional dances such as Jerusarema Mbende and ritual killing. In some instances the male and female elements occur together and yet they will also occur separately. The female element predominates particularly with regard to geometric decorative designs which are derived from and inspired by the body of woman and have derivatives that are reconfigured to avoid monotony.

The perversity of sexual images is borne by the fact that Africans desire continuity, eternity and endlessness for their species. Concepts of continuity, eternity and endlessness are gleaned from both the cosmos and living nature. In the case of the latter, it is by reference to sexuality. At the same time, considerations of ethics and morality demand that matters sexual be approached with circumspection. Appropriate language, the use of art, metaphors, images, symbolism and decorative motifs have been resorted to in order to negotiate the treacherously precipitous terrain of sexuality, particularly with regard to portrayal of the female element.

What has also merged is the fact that for African culture to be fully understood and comprehended, a three-tier approach to cultural expressions is absolutely essential, namely the cosmos(heavens, or universe) with their attributes that relate and translate to continuity, eternity and endlessness while simultaneously being the elements of African Aesthetics and Beauty. Out of an appreciation of the cosmos and their attributes, African Cosmology or African Thought or African Philosophy emerged and formed the second tier of cultural expressions which underpin and inform the lowest tier of artistic expressions, the cultural practices and artistic renditions. When the three levels of cultural expressions are applied to the Great Zimbabwe Cultural Monument, it becomes apparent that sexuality and concomitant ideas of continuity, eternity and endlessness form the one single overarching theme, a situation that may lead to the reinterpretation of the entire lithic edifice to bring it in line with Afro-centric demands and reality.

The unending cycle of life, as enshrined both in circularity and cyclicality, lie at the root of continuity, eternity and endlessness as posited by ancient Africans. Celebration of attainment of critical stages in effecting the idea of unending cycle of life has led to the erection of Africa’s most gigantic stone monuments, namely the pyramids of the Pharaohs in Egypt and the Great Zimbabwe Monument that has given our country, Zimbabwe, its name. Africans recognized that the nature of man, embracing both material/physical and spiritual components, allows for life to exist on two planes or two realms, the material earth plane and the spirit world which is home to the spirit which gets decoupled at death, thus allowing death to become an entry point to eternal life. Death is an important stage of and in life that renders eternity to life. Life, in particular eternal life, in the absence of death, is unimaginable. Even the universe itself emerged out of a collapsed supernova.


Some references

Chigwedere, A. (2016) The Great Zimbabwe State and Its Off-Shoots: AD 1000-1700. Mutapa Publishing House: Marondera.

Chikomo, K. and Nyathi, P. (2016) Echoes From The Past: Interpreting Zimbabwe’s Decorative Symbols. Amagugu Publishers: Bulawayo.

Chikomo, K and Nyathi, P (….) Zimbabwe’s Traditional Dances: Woso. Amagugu Publishers: Bulawayo

Chikomo, K and Nyathi, P. (….) Zimbabwe’s Traditional Dances: Jerusarema Mbende. Amagugu Publishers: Bulawayo.

Chikomo, K. and Nyathi, P. (….) Zimbabwe’s Traditional Dances: Wosana. Amagugu Publishers: Bulawayo.

Chikomo, K. and Nyathi, P. (….) Zimbabwe’s Traditional Dances: Muchongoyo. Amagugu Publishers: Bulawayo.

Chikomo, C. and Nyathi, P. (….)The Chevron and Circle in African Iconography: Celebrating the AU’s Golden Jubilee. Amagugu Publishers: Bulawayo.

Huffman, T. (1996) Snakes and Crocodiles: Power and Symbolism in Ancient Zimbabwe. Witwatersrand University Press: Johannesburg.

Motshekga, M. (nd)African Origins and Cultural Heritage: Self Knowledge Will Set You Free. Kara Heritage Institute: Pretoria.

Nyamutswa, C. (2017) Great Zimbabwe: Who Built It and Why? Themba Books: Harare.

Nyamutswa, C (2018) Our Totems: Our Sexuality Themba Publishers: Harare.

Nyathi, P. (2018) The Big Five: An Afro-centric Perspective. Amagugu Publishers: Bulawayo.

Nyathi, P. (2001) Traditional Ceremonies of AMaNdebele. Mambo Press: Gweru.

Nyathi, P. (2000) Izibongo Lezangelo ZaMaNdebele kaMzilikazi: Iqoqo I Reach Out Publishers: Pietermaritzburg.

Nzinga MuHera WavaNguni(Ambuya MuHera) (nd) The Way of the Light: Book 2; Nzira YeHunhu-The Bantu Way.

Smith, M. (2010) Ancient Egypt. King Fisher: New York.


+263 4 794211/ 794617/ 794530

51 Harvey Brown Avenue, Milton Park Harare Zimbabwe P.O Box A762 Av

Copyright: Culture Fund 2020