A prayer to Mwari (God) and the ancestors at a time of drought among the Zezuru, one of the groups making up the Shona people of southern and south-eastern Zimbabwe. Mabwe aDziva, refers to the Stones of Dziva, or the Matopos Shrines. Dziva, meaning pool, is one of Mwari’s praise names.
The Matopos Hills (also Matobo Hills), 35 km south of Bulawayo, are a profusion of granite rock formations that have cherished as a shrine by different peoples for many millennia. They contain the highest concentration of rock paintings in southern Africa, dating from c11,000 BCE, and humans have occupied the site for 500,000 years. The Shona are not the only modern inhabitants of Zimbabwe to reverence it. It is sacred to the Ndebele, whose chiefs are buried there along with Cecil Rhodes. The poem was translated by George Fortune from a manuscript in the Aaron Hodza collection.
Tovela, our great father, (1)
We have a petition for rain.
The country has become a dry potsherd.
People are suffering through lack of rain.
The flocks have scattered because of thirst.
Heaven has refused to let its tears drop down.
Our children say, ‘Father has thrown sand into our eyes.
He has exposed us to the sun like grain laid out to dry.
Our stomach is a cave of gnawing leguans, such is our hunger.’ (2)
We have been Ignored. What are we to do?
To whom are we to cry?
Is there another parent better than you?
You are our Mwari of Guruuswa, (3)
The one who blazed the path for us.
Tovela, Nurse of mankind,
Wherever you go we are with you, like beads upon a girdle,
You who cause the rain to be given,
You who made food come out of the ground.
Pool of water present from the beginning,
Found before any search,
Being that began before any other,
All-powerful but all-kind, like a grandmother to all.
Stinting no-one, a grandmother to the whole land.
Our Mwari; it is you who brought us into this land.
You it was who followed the spoor,
Your ear able to shelter a whole company and to spare.
Mwari, who has no favourite,
Mwari, grandmother to young children and old men,
What crime have we committed which cannot be told to us?
We have told you the sufferings which have brought us here.
We do not mean to die like sheep.
The elder told us, ‘A child who does not cry will die in his cradle skin.’ (4)
from Mambo Book of Zimbabwean Verse in English,
Colin & O‑lan Style,
(Mambo Press, 1986).
- Tovela: Remote ancestor and spirit medium.
- Leguan, iguana.
- Guruuswa, meaning ‘land of high grass’, traditional ancestral home of the Shona from which they migrated to Zimbabwe.
- A proverbial saying used to justify the present prayer.
Liked it? Take a second to support African Poems on Patreon