Monday, June 18, 2007
By Kamurai Mudzingwa
"It is all very well to call me a rebel but the country belonged to me and my forefathers long before you came here." These enduring, defiant words were uttered by one of the original and historically underplayed heroes of the First Chimurenga, Chief Chingaira of Makoni District in Manicaland Province as he faced the colonialists’ firing squad on September 4 1896.
Chief Chingaira is the only known person in the history of the three Chimurenga Wars whose military ingenuity and resistance to colonialism instilled both anger and unprecedented fear into the British colonialists to the extent that they took his head Indian style to their native land.
"They wanted to show the British government that they had indeed killed him. They were so afraid of him that they wanted to make sure he would not resurrect," said Chief Naboth Makoni.
Chief Chingaira, who became the colonialists’ nemesis, was given the name Mutota at birth but he was later nicknamed Chingaira because of his eyes.
"He was called Chingaira because his eyes were red and they resembled that of a ngaira, an eagle-like bird of prey," explained Chief Makoni.
According to the oral history from the Makoni people, Chingaira’s ascendance to the throne was fortuitous because his life had a national purpose.
Chingaira was the fifth eldest son of Chief Nyamanhindi and according to royal tradition, there was no way he could have ascended the throne when his four elder brothers were still alive.
"Two factors and his character propelled him to chieftainship," said Donald Sarudzai Kamba-Makoni, whose great ancestor was Chingaira’s first cousin.
First there were ethnic wars and then second there were whites to contend with. Enemies faced the chief and his brothers were afraid, only Chingaira was courageous enough to accept the throne under those difficult circumstances."
From the moment he ascended the throne, Chingaira began to write his own unique piece of historical resistance against colonialism that spanned the seven years of his rule from 1889 until his execution in 1896.
"Whites came and built homes in Makoni and Chingaira did not like it and he went to war with them," explained Chief Makoni.
The chief said the colonialists became so oppressive and arrogant that they grabbed the people’s wealth, particularly land and livestock and this incensed Chief Chingaira who mobilised his people and drove the settlers away from the Makoni area.
He said people were often whipped with thongs and tortured in an attempt to break their spirit of resistance.
"One of the things Chief Chingaira despised was cultural colonisation. Whites wanted to label us heathens so that they could rule us and Chingaira was against that and his death led to lots of cultural distortions by the colonisers," said the Chief.
"After Chief Chingaira’s death, colonialists were so afraid of the potency exhibited by the Makoni people that they partitioned the district and appointed other chiefs who toed their line," said Kamba-Makoni.
Chief Chingaira had a powerful army and before his capture, he defeated the colonialists using their own medicine — firepower.
The whites had underrated Chief Chingaira’s army, thinking it was a bunch of disorganised and barbaric Africans using spears and knobkerries.
"His cousin Kamba helped to sponsor the war. Kamba traded with the Portuguese from the East, particularly Mozambique and got guns. Mostly he traded with a Portuguese named Govheya and he even named his sixth son after him.
"In the first war Chingaira killed 12 white settlers. This disturbed the settlers to the extent that they felt the only suitable punishment was decapitation."
The 12 settlers killed by Chief Chingaira were buried at Saint Faith Mission, a few kilometres from Nyabadza near Rusape. Their graves are still a testimony of Chief Chingaira’s military prowess and unfathomable resistance to colonialism.
He troubled the settlers’ army so much that reinforcements had to come from as far as Harare and Mutare, said Chief Makoni.
"While Chingaira was just but one of the traditional leaders who waged the struggle against white settlers, the manner in which he met his death speaks volumes about the degree of effect of resisting white settlerism," Kamba-Makoni added.
Chief Chingaira would puzzle the white settlers’ army by hiding in secret caves and one of these caves was named after his cousin Kamba and it is known as Ninga YaKamba.
He evaded the settlers’ army until he was captured at Gwindingwi Mountain hiding in a cave.
The gallant fighter and his army had sought refuge in the cave before those who collaborated with the settlers sold him out.
Whites used dynamite to force him out of the cave.
"Ndapfunya and Chipunza were some of the people who were in the company of whites in order to assist them in identifying Chingaira," Kamba-Makoni explained.
Without the assistance of collaborators, the white soldiers would have failed to identify him.
"First to come out of the cave was his brother Muchira and the whites were told it was not Chingaira, then his brother-in-law Gwena came out and again the settlers were told by the collaborators that they were being duped. Finally, Chingaira himself came out and he was immediately arrested," narrated Chief Makoni.
They then took the valiant Chief to Tsorodziwa where they shot and beheaded him.
"They placed two women on either side of him so that if he attempted to evade the bullets by moving to either side they would kill them," explained one elderly villager.
The commander of the settler army, a Watts ordered his soldiers to behead the Chief. He then took the head as a trophy to show Cecil John Rhodes and together they boarded the same ship with the head to the United Kingdom.
"They shipped his head as a treasured trophy for amusement in a museum and they can’t part with this trophy. We are saying it is not a trophy it is our chief’s head and we want it back," said an emotional Kamba-Makoni.
In 1988 a delegation that included Phineas Makoni and James Casper Makoni went to the UK to try and retrieve the head and their efforts were in vain.
They were told it was in South Africa but they drew a blank when they visited that country.
"This is a clear sign that the British do not want to release the head," said an angry villager from Makoni.
It is not debatable that Chief Chingaira is a national hero, this is why some critics say historians and other influential people are not doing him justice by playing down his role in the liberation of this country.
"Tell me about one chief or hero who vexed the whites so much that they took his head to the United Kingdom except Chingaira," an emotional Kamba-Makoni asked.
"Chingaira is definitely a national hero with lots of lessons for the second Chimurenga.
"His bravery and subsequent death taught the liberation fighters that the Second Chimurenga was about dying for the sake of the country. Chief Chingaira should remain celebrated to this day. His part in history should be correctly projected," he said.
The People of Makoni have already set aside July 4 as the day to commemorate Chief Chingaira’s life.
As a parting shot, Chief Makoni said, "As the chief who inherited Chingaira’s throne, I want investigations to be carried out about his head’s whereabouts.
"We want to sit with the British and they should tell us where they put the head."