Rich bio-cultural diversity in a Chikukwa forest
Conserving sacred sites and forests is the responsibility of the communities, yet they must seek permission from the government to visit such sacred places. Director of Chikukwa Ecological Land Use and Community Trust (CELUCT), Chester Chituwu tells us about the importance of the Masangoni Sacred Forest in Chikukwa in eastern Zimbabwe
The Masangoni sacred forest in Kubatana village in Chikukwa is culturally and traditionally a major source of spiritual life connection and healing. The forest assists the people of Chikukwa to connect to their ancestral spirits and traditions. The Muyambo family have been the guardians of the forest, as their totem implies they are connected to the water spirits in the forest. The elder women of the Muyambo family are the only ones allowed to enter the forest once a year to perform traditional rain making rituals that connect people with the spiritual kingdom. The whole community celebrate their culture and traditional life in the forest.
The life system of the community revolves around the sacred forest which supports various community spiritual aspects. The community’s spiritual source, or ancestry resides, in this forest and rests in this cool and quiet place that epitomises the coexistence and interrelatedness of the ecosystem. It resembles the purity of nature which the unkind humans have not disturbed.
The forest conserves the ecosystem
Indigenous trees, springs, wild animal species like snails, earthworms and birds are protected there. The forest is a source of food like wild fruits, mushrooms and medicines for the people of Chikukwa. It is also the source of the small streams of Mukudya and Matsoro. The water from the streams benefits families, food crops and domestic and wildlife animals in Chikukwa villages.
One would ask, “What it is that is helping to keep this forest intact?” There are no written down governance systems that guide the protection of this forest. It stands intact but surrounded by a wounded environment. Why? Why is the community mutilating the surrounding environment but not daring to disturb this forest? It is a depository of their culture which includes their spirituality and livelihood. Hence, it is their life and one cannot tamper with one’s life. Yes, to protect the forest from damage, the Chikukwa chieftainship does not allow people to enter the forest unnecessarily nor to fetch firewood. The custodianship of the forests rest on the shoulders of the Muyambo family. It is designated to lead the processes for the rainmaking ceremonies held annually in the forest. To that effect, the Muyambo families, through the Chief, are the only ones allocated residential land close to the forest. They are the direct stewards responsible for the monitoring the forest so that it remains pure.
Processes are in place to have this forest recognised by government as a site that must not be tampered with and as a site that is officially recognised as a sacred territory for the Chikukwa community. What a world we live in, in which the indigenous community have to seek permission from elsewhere to be allowed to own their own sacred places that are part of their lives.