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Daily Xitsonga, Spirituality

Difference between Xikwembu, Muvumbi na Nkwembu– “God has no gender”

“To conquer a nation, you must destroy their concept of their supreme deity, and replace it with your own” – some military leader once said this.

This article, aims to highlight the existence of concepts which have been existing among Vatsonga, concepts of Spiritual/Religious nature. This article is not aimed at converting people to a certain religion, nor it is aimed at making people leave the religions they have converted to or the cultures they have assimilated to.  

Vatsonga, like all people of the world, have always had a wider and deeper understanding of the universe. The existence of words regarding concepts of spirituality is a proof that a concept of spirituality, exists. When Muslim Arabs and Persians arrived among Vatsonga, and when later on Christian Europeans arrived, they found these concepts in existence.

Here are some of these concepts, defined in Tsonga understanding. If a reader’s religion or a reader’s adopted religion, clashes with the definitions, it must be understood that, the definitions root from Vatsonga’s conceptualisation.

In no particular order:

NKWEMBU – In Tsonga concept, Nkwembu means “Deity“.

Nkwembu is sometimes used in the same way as Xikwembu. Also, Nkwembu is used as form of respect, homage and honour. Example, when Vatsonga say “Dr Thomas Chauke i nkwembu wa vunanga”, it does not mean people must erect temples and altars to worship Dr Thomas Chauke, it means he is a Master of his art.

MOYA – Moya, in the spiritual concept, means Soul.

Moya is the binding energy between the Physical and the Spiritual. As the binding energy, Moya can emit Good and Evil energies from an individual. Hence, bad and evil behaviour is considered “Moya wo biha”

NTIMU – The word ‘Ntimu or Ntima’ means the eternal nature of Soul.

In Tsonga concept, a soul doesn’t die; when body and soul separate, the Soul energy changes from Moya to Ntimu, because, it can’t die. Ntimu is life energy. Ntimu is the binding energy between the Living and the Dead. According to Tsonga analogy, life doesn’t die.

XIKWEMBU – The word Xikwembu means the Supreme Deity.

When the word Xikwembu is used to mean a non-supreme deity, another word has to be added to point out that, the deity in question is not the supreme one. Example, when one says “Xikwembu xa Vabaniyani”, it means a deity of the Hindus. Unlike other ancient concepts, whose supreme deities have genders, Xikwembu, in the Tsonga concept, has no gender.  Therefore, there is no such thing as Xikwembu Tatana or Xikwembu Manana in Tsonga analogy. The genderised Xikwembu, is a concept which is foreign to Vatsonga.

According to Tsonga analogy, Gender is an animal feature, and Xikwembu is above those features. The term Xikwembu, is also used to refer to one’s parent or grandparent. Hence, saying “Mutswari i Xikwembu xa wena” is misunderstood by people of other cultures, for, it ends up meaning that the children “worship” their parents, which is a “sin” in other cultures. It is very common in Tsonga analogy, for one to refer to their parents/grandparents, whether alive or dead, as “Swikwembu swa Mina” (My Deities). People of other cultures, may take a great offence, especially when the parents or grandparents are dead, they quickly label that statement as “Worshiping of Dead people”.

MUMBI/MUVUMBI – Mumbi is more of a tittle, than a real name. Mumbi is the Creator.

As said before, Mumbi does not have gender. In a striking similarity with other ancient analogies, like Kemitic (Egyptian) and Greek, Mumbi does have dwellings (Sanctuaries) on Earth. Ancient Vatsonga referred to Lwamumbi (Indian Ocean) as one of the dwelling places of Mumbi; also, Mumbi had the Mount of Kilimanjaro (Ka Ntsweti) as land dwelling, just like the Greek concept of Zeus. In fact, many other people have a concept where their deity dwells in a mountain. Mumbi, as per Tsonga analogy, as a creator, does not need mediums or spokespersons, Mumbi is within everybody.

Note that, unlike other concepts, where their Deities choose certain people, Mumbi is not a deity of Vatsonga; Mumbi is the name of the Creator in Xitsonga. Mumbi does not order Vatsonga to convert other people, nor does Mumbi issue decrees. Again, unlike in other analogies, Mumbi, as per Vatsonga, does not have a Wife or a Husband.

VUMUNHU – Vumunhu means Humanity.

Unlike in other cultures, where humanity is associated with religion, in Tsonga analogy, Vumunhu is a human principle which guides human relations. The teachings of Vumunhu are in the Family, not from outside. Vumunhu is human manifestation of Mumbi.

GANDZELO – Gandzelo means Shrine, Sanctuary or Altar, depending on a context.

As per Tsonga analogy, every Family unit, every Clan, every Tribe has a Gandzelo. Gandzelo is Sacred; it is not to be defiled. Both the living and the dead, and not yet born, are united by a common Gandzelo. According to Tsonga concept, no matter how powerful a man is, he can’t force other people to be bound by his Gandzelo. Gandzelo symbolizes the unity of people. For people of the same Gandzelo, no matter how they quarrel, they are reminded of the fact that they share a common Gandzelo.

MPHAHLO – Mphahlo means Libation or Mass.

This is a ritual, often performed by an Individual, Family, Clan or Tribe. The ritual has various degrees, from Spoken Word, to offering of Animal or Produce Offering. Note that, water animals are not used as animal offering, except for Mamals like Hippo. Ku Phahla, sometimes referred to as Ku Luma, is performed in cases where people thank Mumbi for a Good Harvest. Tsonga Royals and owners of Land perform Mphahlo even in times of disasters like Drought, Famine, and Plagues etc.

MFUNGHO – Mfungho is a Totem.

The spiritual significance of a Totem is worldwide factor. All people of this world are into Totemism, there is no exception. However, some people may not know their Totems, or may not even be aware of the meaning of a Totem. In Tsonga analogy, Mfungho is a natural symbol which indicates the relationship between Humans and Mumbi.

Mfungho has to be something created by Mumbi, Mfungho can’t be something which is man-made.

In Tsonga analogy, all the surnames are tied to Mfungho. Mfungho gives protection to humans, in the same vein; humans protect it from physical harm or defilement. In most cases, Mfungho is seen as XIYILA (Taboo), but in reality, the two differ. A Mfungho is always mentioned in Greetings, Salutations and Libations, but a Xiyila is avoided

XIYILA – The word means Taboo.

In Tsonga analogy, each Tribe has a Xiyila, this Xiyila has to be something natural, which that particular Tribe may not touch or consume. This Xiyila theory, if closely observed it was a system by Ancient Vatsonga to balance and preserve the Ecosystem.

Simply put: “If everybody consumes everything, the Ecosystem will collapse”, therefore, people had to glorify a Mfungho and avoid a Xiyila, in that case, at least, two Nature products were protected. This is not something which is unique to Vatsonga, many other people of this world, do have similar practices, some even punish those who break the rules.

N’WANTENYANI – N’wantenyani is a name.

In other analogies, N’wantenyani can be said to be a Deity of Sleep or Patron Saint of Sleepers. However, in Tsonga analogy, though N’wantenyani is referred to as Nkwembu Wa Vurhongo (Deity of Sleep), N’wantenyani is not a supernatural being per se.

The word Nkwembu is also used as a form of high respect and honour.

N’wantenyani, legend says, was someone who was a master in curing sleep disorders and casting off nightmares. When Vatsonga say N’wantenyani i Nkwembu wa Vurhongo, it does not mean N’wantenyani created sleep.


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