By Norma Tsopo
MUTARE – Lightning making claims by the Manyika people in eastern Zimbabwe has been marveled at but often been dismissed as a stunning-if-but-true dark art.
Witnesses to its truth claims have been derided as superstitious and backward.
But Mutare museum seeks to challenge that verdict with its displays of lightning making paraphernalia.
The sorcery trimmings which include a bottle with herbs, another with a black liquid, another with whitish substances and a duiker horn are now on display in the museum’s reorganised Beit Gallery under the witchcraft section which the museum believes is a critical cultural heritage of the eastern Shona.
The gallery which was revamped courtesy of a $25 000 Beit Trust grant with government adding another $12 000 was officially opened recently by Minister of Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage, honourable Abednego Ncube.
The trappings were a donation from a practitioner of black magic which came with specific instructions not to keep them together as they would become dangerous museum authorities said.
“We had instructions to keep them separate so that they remain deactivated,” National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) Eastern Region Director Dr Paul Mupira told delegates during a tour of the gallery.
Dr Mupira in an earlier interview however admitted that they had not found any need to verify the potency of the artifacts by demanding their use before accepting them.
“What was important for us was that people believe in it,” he said.
Within the same display are skulls of a crocodile, a hyena and stuffed birds that are linked to witchcraft – an owl and a plover, a winnowing basket, a bundle of straw, as well as pictures of snakes, bats, and a variety of other animals.
The witchcraft displays are being seen as an official acknowledgement of the existence of the practice by government whose laws deny its existence but which traditional leadership structures accept and even fine people for practicing it.
Dr Mupira however said the displays are not a seal to authenticate the existence of the dark magic by NMMZ but an acknowledgement of locals’ beliefs.
He said the displays were meant to challenge researchers to interrogate the practices further and shed more light on the dreaded field.
Minister Ncube said the revamp was part of government efforts to preserve and promote local culture and heritage.
“It is a fact that during the colonial period the focus of the then authorities was on the preservation and promotion of foreign cultures and heritage such as forts and Christianity while paying a deaf ear on local, indigenous heritage,” the minister said.
He said the exhibitions were meant especially to “facilitate the preservation of certain cultural traditions and identities in the province that are threatened by Western cultures.
“Such localized thematic exhibitions help in the advancement of local cultures and instill a sense of pride and belonging in our communities.”