Healing has become a major feature of study by scholars in different academic disciplines. In Zimbabwe scholars in medicine and social science have explored religion and healing in the context of Shona traditional religion as well as independent church aetiologies and medical views and praxis. Healing in the ‘mainline churches’, however, has not drawn much attention, but there is a growing awareness of the need to assess healing in the mainline churches in the African context.
Michael Gelfand, an empathetic medical doctor and lay anthropologist in Zimbabwe, studied religion, medicine and culture in the Shona context. Gelfand lived a long time among the Shona and with his medical background, gained considerable knowledge of the Shona understanding of the causes of disease and the restoration of health. In the Shona belief system spirits and witchcraft cause sickness. The n’anga seeks the cause and heals diseases (Gelfand 1965:25).
Other leading scholars have contributed to building up a picture of Shona medico-religious beliefs and practices using a variety of approaches. These contributions include Michael Bourdillon's (1987) anthropological studies of the Shona, Hubert Bucher's (1980) sociological assessment of the Shona cosmology, Herbert Aschwanden's (1987) symbolic analysis of death and disease among the Shona-Karanga and Gordon Chavunduka's (1978) sociological approach to traditional healing and medicine in Zimbabwe.
Research on independent churches in Zimbabwe is inspired by the missiologist Marthinus Daneel. His studies of the southern Shona Zionist churches are significant. Daneel has shown that these independent churches centre on the theme of healing, and so he has called them ‘healing churches’. Daneel's studies also reveal that in Zionist services, much attention is given to the cause of suffering and sickness or concern for the sick. Daneel notes that these churches have the same interest in health that was the concern of Shona traditional religions. Daneel captures the most attractive mark of Zionist churches in their transformation of the old and new world views expressed in faith healing.
The major attraction of the independent church movement lies in its remarkable ability to combine vital aspects of the old order – the basic structure of African society, beliefs, sentiments and philosophy – with new religion, Christianity. (Daneel 1971:457)
These studies show that healing is a fundamental feature of both African traditional religion and Christianity. In traditional religion, healing is holistic.
Health is one of the primary concerns of the Karanga religion. Their traditional religious belief system identifies numerous and varied causes of illness and disease. Many times certain illnesses and diseases have a distinct reason for appearing. It is then the task of the n’anga (diviner-healer) to diagnose who or what causes the illness and to give the patient a pertinent cure. Therefore the n’anga plays an important role in determining the cause of illness and disease and prescribing an effective cure.
The Karanga make a distinction between four different categories of causes of illness and diseases. They are spirits, witchcraft and sorcery, socio-moral and natural causes.
The Karanga believe in the existence of spirits that affect every part of their lives. One can make a distinction between ancestral spirits (vadzimu), avenging spirits (ngozi), alien spirits (mashavi) and shadow of a dead person (bvuri).
Ancestor spirits are the basic spirits, which cause illness and disease of a complex and serious nature. Such an illness is believed to defy all treatment. However, this is not meant to kill the victim but to alert the descendants to search for the spiritual cause from the diviners. Besides their role in guarding and protecting living members of the family, ancestors can be malevolent if neglected or forgotten. This usually happens when some rituals for the spirits are neglected, for example, kurova guva, a traditional ritual that calls back the spirit of the dead and doro reChikaranga, the annual traditional beer brewing in commemoration of the dead. Ancestors can cause illness and disease as means of communication, usually calling for ritual attention by the descendants. They can also cause illness and disease when they want recognition by a name given to one of the family members, especially the sick one. Curing will naturally take the form of exorcism or appeasement of the spirit through sacrifice or material concessions such as beer, cloth, blankets, beasts, etc.
But from another perspective, the Karanga also maintain strong convictions that ancestors do not actually cause illness and disease. As one informant put it, ‘Ancestors do not shed blood but inflict pain only. When they exterminate the descendants, they are now avenging spirits.’
Spiritual healing in the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe is practised in Super Roma by a Catholic priest, Father Augustine Urayai of Chinyuni Mission in Chirumanzu District. The significance of this new style of African initiative in healing in terms of the relationship between Christianity and African traditional religion in the African context is comprehended in the priest-healer's personal history and vocation, his healing ministry, theology, problems and social responsibilities.
Father Augustine Urayai
Fr Augustine Urayai Madyauta was born in 1931 in the then Chilimanzi District in Homera. He attended school at Makanya Primary School and then Holy Cross and Hama Mission for secondary education. He is one of the first three Roman Catholic priests in the Gweru diocese. The other two are Fr Francis Mungadzi and Fr Xavier Marimazhira. The three were educated at Gokomere Mission and trained as teachers in 1949 before studying theology and philosophy at Chishawasha Regional Seminary in Harare in 1964. By virtue of their outstanding education and administrative potential, the three were engaged as managers of schools and parishes. Fr Urayai was then posted at Mutero Mission in Gutu. Currently he is stationed at Chinyuni Parish, which is under St Joseph's Hama Mission in Chirumanzu.
Fr Urayai served for many years as a Catholic priest and for 26 of them he dealt with evil spirits. Because of his success in driving away evil spirits and enabling some spirits to repent, exorcism is now part of his pastoral ministry. ‘He finds joy in it … despite opposition and challenges from some lay people, the religious and even from fellow priests as is common with all priests involved in exorcisms in the Catholic Church.
Fr Urayai's source of inspiration and interest in exorcism goes back to those years when he was at the Regional Seminary in Chishawasha as a student. He read books and magazines, which he came across in the library, that dealt with the subject of spirits and exorcism of self-confessing spirits. He was also interested in watching videos and films of exorcism.
I was very much moved by how priests helped people suffering from the effects of evil spirits … I was fascinated by the way priests exorcised spirits using holy water, incense and the cross … This is how I became inspired, and I began to pray for such a gift every day in my meditation.
The emergence of the St Elijah Church with its strong emphasis on spiritual healing in the name of Christ established a new kind of religious experience in the Mahindi area. In this church much attention is paid to the cause of illness and healing. The source of illness and disease is identified through several techniques of diagnosis employed by a specialist healer as pre-requisites for healing.
The founder of the church is Steven Tafa Shava. He was born in 1926 at Mahindi in the Muvuya family in a traditional Karanga cultural milieu. In his youth he experienced dreams and visions calling him to the healing profession. This influenced him later to abandon his family's traditional life-style and practice and to submit himself to Christ. When the white missionaries from the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCZ) operating in the area recruited him to service in the church, Shava joined them. He trained as an evangelist at the then Swedish church headquarters at Mnene Mission.
In his long career as an evangelist in the Lutheran church Shava experienced further dreams and visions, which appeared intermittently. He was also visited at home by strangers who turned out to be prophets from various Spirit-type churches. This made him feel the need for a more spiritual Christian life, which the ELCZ could not fulfil. He established prayer sessions at home which developed into night vigils (pungwe) at which he invited visiting prophets and locals to come together in prayer. At times he hosted missions for evangelism organised by the male wing of the Lutheran church called Zvapupu (Witnesses). Prayer sessions were temporarily disrupted between 1976 and 1979, towards the end of the war of Liberation. But after the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980 he revived prayer sessions. With growing popularity in the area Shava decided to break away from the ELCZ to form his own denomination, St Elijah, known affectionately as Chikoro Chomweya (School of the Holy Spirit).
Joe Ellaine Madzimambo, originally from Rusape, is currently the chief prophet in the church but he works with a team of other junior prophets and assistants. From its original base in Mberengwa, the church has successfully recruited new members in several areas in Zimbabwe such as Beit Bridge, Harare, Masvingo, Mt Darwin, Rusape and Zvishavane. It claims to have 1 500 members.
Spiritual healing in the Anglican Church is conducted by a priest called Rev. Lazarus Muyambi, founder of the Chita cheZvipo zveMoto (CZM – Community of the Gift of Holy Fire) at the Zimbabwe Spiritual Healing and Manger Centre at St Agnes Anglican Mission in Gokwe District. The relationship between Christianity and the African traditional world view, in the African initiatives in healing mission, is understood in terms of the historical background of the centre, its structure, the biographies of the healers, the healing ministry, and pastoral and social service.
St Agnes Mission commenced in 1953 as St Agnes Anglican School. A local congregation was eventually established at this place. But since it had no proper church building, services conducted by the resident assistant priest, Rev. Amos Masabalala, were held in one of the classrooms. In 1971 the school was taken over by the local council and in the same year the priest died. This severely affected the development of the infant church (Jongwe s.a.:1).
In 1972 Bishop Mark Wood of the Diocese of Matabeleland was allocated a fresh site in order to construct a church. He then called Rev. Lazarus Muyambi from Botswana to come and challenge the people of Gokwe, who were perceived as living in darkness. Muyambi responded positively but in Gokwe he was faced with many problems, such as lack of accommodation, a dry environment and few believers. He persevered, however, and constructed the church, which boosted morale in the new congregation.
On 4 April 1973, Bishop Mark Wood, who supported Muyambi financially and materially, officially opened the church in a colourful ceremony, and Muyambi was installed as the first priest-in-charge of St Agnes Mission.
Within a few years Muyambi had dramatically transformed St Agnes into a popular spiritual healing centre which was registered with the Government of Zimbabwe on 31 May 1979 as a welfare organisation called Zimbabwe Spiritual Healing and Manger Centre W.O. 17/79 (Jongwe s.a.:1).
The centre consists of a parsonage and church where all the services are held. Lazarus Muyambi is the father and head of the mission. Attached to the church is the vestry, which serves as the priest's office where all confessions, laying on of hands and regular prayers take place.
An analysis of Christian healing expressed in mainline churches, namely Super Roma and Chita cheZvipo zveMoto (CZM) and an independent church, St Elijah, in the context of traditional world views yields patterns of similarities and differences in the healing praxis at various levels. In some ways mainline Christian healing resembles both traditional and independent church healing but in others it differs radically from the other two. In slightly different ways mainline churches adopt a middle position with charismatic traits and thus introduce a new paradigm in Christian healing.
All Christians in Super Roma, CZM and St Elijah attribute causes of illness and disease to menacing spiritual entities, malicious witches, sorcerers and wizards, lack of faith in God and violating divine sanctions. In this context illness and disease are a manifestation of the sacred within the profane world, calling for attention or rectification of the situation (see Eliade 1959:11–29). They are a sign of the restlessness of the spiritual realm in an attempt to mete out justice. Apparently such causal explanations characteristic of Christian healing systems correspond significantly to a traditional theory of causation which holds that spirits comprising ancestors and alien spirits, witches and sorcerers and breaking of rules of respect are an effective cause of illness and even misfortune and death.
On the issue of spirits as a cause of illness and disease, all Christians and traditionalists seem to share a common world view. In both contexts spirits are a strong force to be reckoned with. But contrary to traditional perceptions that perceive ancestors as essentially positive and benevolent, Christians view ancestors as capricious, dangerous and unpredictable. As such they are lumped together with all forces of darkness and arch enemies of God. What is striking is that in all healing systems, whether traditional or Christian, there is an underlying dichotomy between good and evil in the cosmology.
Witchcraft and sorcery emerge as a conspicuous explanation of illness and disease. Close scrutiny reveals that Christians and traditionalists share corresponding convictions. In this view the cause of evil is malicious humans who operate clandestinely under the cover of darkness. Though witches are humans, they are closely associated with spirits due to their weird character, invisibility and autonomous power. In all contexts witches and sorcerers undermine the basis of life and must be eradicated at all costs.
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