Manyika people


Manyika / Wanyika

The Manyika tribe are a Shona people with its own dialect, Manyika. The majority of Manyika comes from the eastern region of Zimbabwe and in neighbouring Mozambique.

Manyika People

The dialect is widely spoken in Manicaland Province and in certain areas of Manica Province in neighbouring Mozambique. The Manyica dialect varies from region to region in Manicaland. Those from Nyanga, Nyamaropa, Nyatate and surrounding regions have a different tone and shaping of words compared to those from the Buhera and Bocha areas. There are inherent cultural norms in each of the sub-regions inhabited by the Manyika.

Manyika, also spelled Manica, also called Wanyika, one of the cluster of Shona-speaking peoples inhabiting extreme eastern Zimbabwe and adjacent areas of interior Mozambique south of the Púnguè River. The Manyika have existed as an ethnic group discrete from other Shona groups only since the 1930s.

Historically, the Manyika recognized a hereditary headman who, assisted by family heads, arbitrated disputes and officiated at sacrifices to ancestral spirits. Although the earlier Manyika were divided into many small polities, Manyika-speaking peoples did make up the two kingdoms of Mutasa and Makoni, which are said to have existed from at least the early 17th century.

It was not until well into the colonial period that people of Mutasa and Makoni, in reaction to the activities of European missionaries and administrators, began to have the common feeling of being Manyika. Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic missionaries established a written Manyika dialect with which they taught and evangelized. Educated, Christian Manyika were recognized as ardent workers and entrepreneurs and were given priority in hiring; being Manyika became profitable. Considerable rural-urban migration by Manyika has transformed social organization in rural areas. The Manyika were enthusiastic participants in the struggle for Zimbabwean independence. National leaders from their area include Herbert Chitepo and the Methodist bishop Abel Muzorewa.

Goldfields are found in Manicaland, Zimbabwe, and have been worked since the 17th century or earlier. Gold was an important trade item among peoples of the area and was taken eastward to coastal towns in Mozambique for trade with Indian, Arab, and Portuguese merchants there. Manyika work in the mines (gold, chromium, and tungsten) and local industries (lumber, distilleries, and food-preparation) of Zimbabwe and elsewhere in southern Africa. They are, however, largely an agricultural people who grow corn (maize) as a staple; raise cattle, goats, and chickens; and fish, hunt, and gather some wild foods. Rural Manyika reside in dispersed hamlets of family compounds, their round houses surrounding a communal cattle corral.



The Manyika language is a dialect of the broader Shona language. Largely spoken by the Manyika people in the eastern parts of Zimbabwe and across the border in Mozambique. During colonization the term was taken to include all people from Manicaland an administrative province of eastern Zimbabwe. Other shona dialects that must stand alone were incorporated into the Manyika dialect by so doing forcefully marrying cultures that are not compatible. The Manyika are the people under chief Mutasa whose territory used to stretch into now Mozambique. To the south it is bordered by the Jindwi dialect also known as Chibocha. The Jindwi share borders with the Ndau in Chimanimani stretching down to Chipinge and have the Vahera to the west. The Ndau dialect is complicated on its own with people from the dry parts distinct from those from the highlands. The other cultures and dialects married into the Manyika dialect are Chiungwe which is for the people mostly under Makoni this dialect is clearly distinct form the others mentioned above. Nyanga also has a lot of other dialects that are distinct from Zezuru and the Chimanyika where they were married into. The Wanyama under chief Saunyama and the Wahwesa in Kairezi, the Tangwena in Nyamaropa and the VaBarwe are dialects that were included to make the Manyika dialect. Stretching into Mozambique have a dialect that must be respected as it is different form other dialects it was grouped into.

Variations in local vocabulary and word prefixes exist. In East Africa, manyika means "be known"; therefore, some people have Manyika as their surname. The prefix Va- (used in Shona before male names to signify seniority and respect) is Sa- in Manyika. It is also replaced by wa-; vanhu vakaenda vakawanda becomes wanhu wakaenda wakawanda. However, in some areas Zezuru and Karanga words have been completely altered when they are translated into ChiManyika; for example, the Zezuru word Nhasi (meaning "today") becomes Nyamusi in Manyika.

The identification through cultures languages and artificial boundaries worked well in separating and dividing the Zimbabweans thus making it easier for the management and control of the administrative districts. This however failed to maintain and appreciate the religious and cultural norms of these dialects. This has been adopted by the current governments though these boundaries have been shifted the identification of these dialects as representing a culture is still to be considered. This has subsequently led to the abandonment and lack of appreciation of minority cultures by so doing killing the aspect of identity and belonging.



In 1695 Emperor Changamire Dombo overran the rich gold-producing kingdom of Manyika, descending to the lowlands on the eastern edge of the country to destroy the Portuguese market town at Masikwesi. Dombo now controlled the whole gold-producing territory from Butwa in the southwest to Manyika in the northeast.

The greatly expanded Portuguese Manyika included the territory of Maungwe; the Portuguese treated the Makoni chiefs of Maungwe as independent sovereigns and made treaties with them.

A third use of Manyika was that made by the British as a counter to claims by the Portuguese and the SaManyika people. In their attempt to gain control of "the Pungwe River route, which was the main water way to and from Beira", the British South Africa Company imposed "a treaty on Mutasa on 14 September 1890". The treaty "provided that no one could possess land in Manyika except with the consent of the BSA Company". When it was signed the company invented its own "Greater Manyika", the western boundaries of which lay deep inside Portuguese territory; areas such as Mazoe and Maungwe, to which the company made different claims, were excluded. Once the company's frontiers had been fixed by means of war and arbitration, there was no longer any need to inflate the power and territory of Mutasa.

The kingdom of Manyika was divided between the two administrative districts of Umtali and Inyanga; much of its land was alienated to white farmers, and the administration was determined to advance a minimal definition of Manyikahood. "Umtassa's country and people are called Manyika", wrote Native Commissioner Umtali in January 1904. "They do not speak the same dialect as the other Mashonas". The desire to separate Mutasa from neighbouring peoples can be seen in early district reports from Umtali, in which Native Commissioner Hulley contended that the three chiefs in the district (Mutasa, Maranke and Zimunya) had distinct origins (even if there was a popular tendency to refer to his district as "Manicaland"). As far as the administrative district of Makoni was concerned, the Native Department emphasized the distinction between its people and the Manyika. In 1910 there was a boundary dispute between the Native Commissioners of Makoni and Inyanga districts.

The matter was decided; the Chief Native Commissioner determined that "the N.C., Inyanga deal with all Manyika natives and the N.C., Rusapi with all the Makoni". The Native Department politically and culturally separated the Ungwe of Makoni from the Manyika. In 1915, a debate arose within the Native Department about the significance of the term mayinini in relation to Manyika marriage customs. Llewellyn Meredith (who had been Native Commissioner in both Melsetter and Makoni districts, whose inhabitants were considered Manyika) expressed his opinion about "Manica customs and language", but was scorned by the Manyika specialists. Superintendent of Natives Umtali mocked Meredith's "18 years experience of Manyika customs gathered in other districts" and invoked the authority of Archdeacon Etheridge (the leading missionary expert on Mutasa's chiefdom). "I do not of course know", wrote Etheridge, "what word may be used in Chindau, or Chirungwe, the dialects spoken in Melsetter and Rusape [Makoni] districts, but as regards Chimanyika there is no question at all".


The burial customs of the Wa Manyika tribe

from Denys Shropshire / The Burial Customs of Wa Manyika Tribes. (1931)

The burial customs of the Wa Manyika tribe in the North East of Southern Rhodesia fall into three fairly clearly defined periods, as follows:

Kuchema (to weep or wail).
When the corpse has been washed the ceremony of Kupeta  is performed, i.e. the arms are bound on the breast with the hands together in an upward position, the feet also being bound *with knees upward. Then the drums begin to beat, guns are fired (if deceased is a chief) and wailing begins. The dance the Marira dance and sing: “You will dig your garden happily because the enemy has gone.” This is an ironical song meant for the person supposed to have bewitched the deceased. Another song is “They will die (but) others will take their place”. They carefully watch the mubvuri  (shadow of the dead person) to see if it remains. If it remains they go to a Diviner to know the reason, and he tells them what to do, e.g. in the case of one important old woman the people neglected to make a special bed for the corpse and to tie a goat to a leg of the bed according to the custom of her people, therefore the shadow did not depart until they had enquired about this for a the Diviner and carried it out. When the shadow has departed, a ring called "Kusuma" is put on a wooden plate and shown to all the relations, the person who shews it saying at the same time "Taputsika " (we are fallen). This is done to announce the death formally; otherwise they might be accused of killing the person. All who behold the ring answer "Tese" (all of us), i.e. we all know.

The Mukwambo (son-in-law) -it must not be a blood relation- now goes forth to look for a grave and a ledge of a rock is generally found. When this has been prepared the Mukwambo then returns to the house, leaving a few people behind to watch the grave. Others return with the Mukwambo  to carry the corpse and bring the goat. When they arrive at the house they all kneel down and kuridza manja (clap hands ceremonially) and say to the deceased, "We are come to take you now to put you in your house". The corpse is placed on a stretcher of cloth and bamboo poles and carried to the grave, the people singing again the above-mentioned song. Guns are fired again and there is a great wailing. Between the house and the grave they stop, place the corpse on the ground, Hit round it in a circle and kuridza manja. This is done to give deceased a rest and to show him that they are present. When they reach the grave they take a root of a tree and place it near the entrance to the grave. They then take wet mud and smear it round inside of the place where the corpse will rest to keep him cool. The corpse is then received by the Mukwambo and placed in the grave lying on his right side so that he cannot kill people so easily with his left arm. Then they half close the grave, leaving an opening so that all the relatives, for the last time, can see the body lying in the grave. In the grave with the body they put ufu  (mealie meal), water, a mat and a broken plate.

Then they close up the grave, placing a row of stones as a door. The badza (hoe) with which the grave was prepared is left under the top soil. The goat is then killed and roasted, no salt being used on this occasion. Then they take a branch of the Muminu  tree and sweep round the grave, leaving the branch as a shade. All kneel down and kuridza manja, and the Mukwambo  says, “this is now your house, you must not allow anything to dig out your body and take it off”. Then all the relations take the root which had previously been placed at the entrance to the grave, and bite it in turn (kuruma mutombo). Only those who may not marry each other may bite this root, and if they do not do so they will become lepers. No wailing take place at the grave, but when they leave the grave the wailing begins and continues until they reach the house. At the house the feast of Bepu (the feast of the helpers) is prepared. Then all return to their homes, and having washed, put medicine on their bodies. Meanwhile arrangements are made for Kuchenura (to cleanse or purify).

All the relatives bring badzas (hoes) and other presents and go to the nganga, who give them different coloured bead (gumbwa), which each puts to his mouth, spits on them and say, “If it is I who ate my father let me be taken by these charms”. This is a reference to the cutting of some flesh of the deceased for purposes of witchcraft, e.g. the little finger.

The Nganga then throws the hakata (divining bone») to detect the guilty one. If nobody if taken they will find out from the neighbours who killed deceased. When found the Nganga  first put ufu (mealie meal) on the heads of the innocents, but on the guilty, or his representative, it is merely put on the side of the head. The party of relatives now return home to drink the Kuchenura beer, some of which is given to other villagers and some left in the pots. The head of the family then proceeds to make known the message of the Nganga, but never mentions the name of the person who is guilty. If it is a relative he says, “My witchcraft is in my belt, all of you give water to each other”, i.e. do not be afraid. If it is a neighbour he says, “My witchcraft is from the open fields”. Then they finish the beer and act up a great wailing and dancing and singing for the dead person. Medicinal herbs are then put in a mortar and stamped, and water is mixed with them. The weapons and clothes of the dead man are now brought and placed out separately, and all, from the eldest to the youngest, touches them with the medicine which has been prepared. The dead man's bow is then placed in the hands of the eldest son and a calabash of beer is poured on his head, and these words are said: “You (name of dead person) must be a good man, and if you are irritated, keep quiet and do not fight as a youngster would”.

He is then given presents by all the relatives and greets with the words "Our elder, you have come as our father himself”. All the debts of deceased are acknowledged and settled on this day. If not, then they are not reckoned. Then follows the distribution of nbaka  (inheritance) wives. The semukadzi (sister of deceased) settles who is to marry the wives. The best are given to the eldest son and heir, though not his own mother. The women are told to warm water and bring it to t he man who is to inherit and marry them. If he accepts a wife he receives the water from her and washes his face, but, if he does not want her he refuses the water she brings. If he accept, he sleeps with her that night.

All the mourners then shave their heads in front and at the sides. This is the real act of Kuchenura. No quarrelling may take place during Kuchenura or it may be taken as an accusation of witchcraft.
Then follows the third part of the Burial Customs, namely, Tswitsa  (the guide to the place).
Some months elapse between them» three sections of the Burial Customs, the whole extending over a period of about a year, or it may even be two or three years.