viewpoint:By Blessing Mandabva
The sitz im leben of the paradox around the mystery on the month of November remains veiled in obscurity. It is a month in which nothing literally materialises on the cultural arena. Marriages, weddings and other cultural ceremonies such as biras, kurova makuva or even traditional marriage rites are regarded as taboo during the month as they are put on hold. Every society has its own traditions and superstitions, and in Zimbabwe conducting such ceremonies in the month of November is taboo. The belief goes back to many years ago, with a fear that a November wedding will bring bad luck.
November is a sacrosanct month, a time when people start preparations for the all-important agricultural season. Traditionalists believe that Zimbabwe is fast losing its direction where culture is being tampered with as it embraces Christianity. Just as it is in the Bible that after creating the world over six days, the Almighty God rested on the seventh day, the local spiritual realm also rests during the month of November, also known as Mbudzi in Shona or uLwezi in Ndebele. It is during this month that everything with links to the spiritual and ancestral world of Zimbabwean tradition temporarily ceases to function.
In Shona tradition, spirit mediums use the spirit of the departed to help in the functioning and well-being of the society. That also applies to spirits manifesting in traditional healers who also use the spirit of the departed to heal and give solutions to life problems. These are the spirits which rest during the month of November, and in the Shona cultural context, no such spirit is able to perform its obligatory function during the course of this period. However, that does not mean that the spiritual realm ceases to exist during this period, it simply means the spirits will be resting.
According to village head James Dindikwa Marira of Marira village under Chief Mutasa, Manicaland province, it is common knowledge that this is a cultural rule although it is not provided for and transcribed in the laws of the country.
“One who would have traditionally performed an abomination would be required to pay an appeasement fee, which will then be required to cleanse the people and institutions involved in the abomination,” said Sekuru James Dindikwa Marira.
“Mostly traditional and cultural events or rites performed during this period are rendered as a nullity or non-event at cultural level and would have to be re-done at appropriate times.
“If it is a traditional marriage ceremony, that marriage will not be recognised and will not subsist at cultural level, and that also applies to other traditional ceremonies which will not be received within the spiritual dominion.”
This is the same standard used on another Shona cultural practice called chisi where a village observes a certain day of the week for resting purposes.
Any transgressor who fails to observe this day faces community backlash as social and economic ills such as droughts and poor cropping yields are attributable to those who profane this day. The resulting importance in this regard is the same as the sacrilege of the November month which is severe penalties or even banishment from the village under worst-case scenarios.
In actuality, everything which is linked to the departed world is not permissible during the month of November. It must be noted that this temporary disengagement must not be misconstrued to mean that the spiritual realm ceases to look over its descendants during this period.
The continued violation of these traditional sacrosanct laws has led to innumerable problems bedevilling communities and the nation at large. Unfavourable weather conditions, droughts and mystical occurrences are some of the bad results that people come across as a result of not respecting this important month in Shona culture.
However, it must be noted that the spiritual world is tolerant at length and it wants to make peace with its children. The church has not been spared in observing the sacrosanct month of November. Some Christians opt not to go against the holding of weddings and marriage ceremonies in the month of November. We also have another cross-section of Christians who seem not to care, but instead continue with their marriage rites and weddings.
United Methodist Church senior pastor Reverend John Makaniko said: “There is no text to support sacredness of November, there is no biblical basis to honour the sacredness of the month.”
“In Christianity in general and the Methodist tradition every day is a sacred day as it is ordained by God, but not in the ritualistic sense of the month of November. Thus, churches hold their end-of-year revivals in November because it’s just like any other month.”
According to him, the sacredness of the month of November is a Zimbabwean tradition tolerated by Christians for the sake of the other brothers.
Thus, those Christians avoid marriages and weddings in November not because God forbids it, but because of respect for peace, unity and harmony in the communities we live.
“Finally, cultural practices are waning and losing efficacy because of intermarriages with other races, therefore, the important thing is to worship God in spirit and truth,” said Reverend Makaniko.
Coming to business, wedding service providers confirmed that there is no brisk business in the month of November because of the cultural norms.
Salome Makani, who is celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband, said her relatives have not subscribed to the idea of hosting the event in November.
“When we told our relatives 25 years ago that our wedding was going to be in November they could not believe it, hence we ended up getting a backlash,” said Makani.
Some wedding organisers said they haven’t followed up on what happens to them after holding weddings in the month of November.
To some, November has worked for them as they will have a wedding that they could not otherwise afford because of a discount.
A spokesperson at Mvumvuri Wedombo, a popular wedding and events venue in Harare, indicated that all the Sundays and Saturdays of December were fully booked.
“December is fully booked, but no one is taking up November,” the spokesperson who referred to himself as Mbengo said.
He said despite having discounts in the month of November, business is very low.
The chain of related businesses that are affected in the month of November goes beyond costumers and wedding planners according to an events manager.
November remains a mystery — it is one of those months which are associated with loads of all those dark myths, beliefs and conceptions to the extent that some occasions are deferred until this month passes.
It was in the month of November when the late leader of the opposition MDC-T Morgan Tsvangirai got married to Locadia Karimatsenga and the marriage did not last.
There were efforts to make Tsvangirai answerable for his actions with several chiefs including Chief Chivero of Mhondoro and Chief Mutekedza of Chivhu subscribing to the same notion. It was the same month when former president Robert Mugabe was removed from office.
Only time will tell whether avoiding taboo issues associated with this month will be passed from generation to generation.
There is more to the dynamism of culture as it is fluid rather than static, which means that culture changes all the time, every day, in subtle and tangible ways.
Some would say religion and culture are separate entities, hence people tend to confuse the African traditional religion and African culture because there is a thin line separating the two.
In spite of a Christian renaissance in the country with most people finding religion under one prophet or another in addition to the traditional churches, the ties of tradition appear to be very strong and very few dare to tempt fate by inviting “curses” on their marriage by wedding in November.