Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa

Why Klara Ana Rosa Wojtkowska’s actions are acts of spiritual terrorism

By Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa

ON 26 May 2020, I wrote an op-ed in response to Google’s doodle on Zimbabwean mbira music. This op-ed was titled ‘Cultural Vampires: White Exploitation of Zimbabwean Mbira Music’ and it critiqued the unchecked knowledge colonisation taking place in Zimbabwe’s mbira music community.

For the last 90 years, Madhunamutuna (i.e. European and American outsiders) have wrongfully claimed ownership, expertise, and authority over global narratives, education, and alleged “preservation” of Madzimbabwe mbira music. I call these outsiders cultural vampires. Cultural vampires are those that subsist on the vital essence of our bloodlines.

Giving a full review of our cultural history is beyond the scope of this op-ed, but here are some key points I need you to keep in mind as you continue reading:

Madhunamutuna’s colonisation of Madzimbabwe was an act of witchcraft and knowledge genocide (read: Mhoze Chikowero’s “Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe”).

Culture, spirituality, and power are inextricably linked. In order to subjugate us as a people, Madhunamutuna strategically attacked our Indigenous spiritual practices (ChiVanhu Chedu) as a way to weaken the moral uprightness and strong family bonds that ChiVanhu Chedu (check glossary of terms at the end of this op-ed) insists upon.

In the late-1800s Indigenous Culture Bearers such as anaGwenyambira, Masvikiro, neMakombwe were tortured, raped, mutilated, decapitated, and publicly flogged by Christian missionaries in order to humiliate these practitioners. These spirit workers and healers were forced underground until ChiVanhu Chedu made its public resurgence in the Chimurenga of 1965-1980 through spirit mediums who guided comrades on the front lines, and music artists such as Thomas ‘Mukanya’ Mapfumo.

Madhunamutuna Christian missionaries inflicted violence on ChiVanhu Chedu so as to instill “the fear of God” into every Christian convert. This fear exists today. And this generational trauma is the source of many Christian Zimbabweans’ fear of mbira music and ChiVanhu

Since publishing the 2020 op-ed, I have been on faculty at Princeton University working on my research called Chimurenga ChePfungwa. I work closely with our Madzimbabwe culture bearers, conducting research and gathering data for a full-length academic work that exposes the unchecked cultural exploitation that is running rampant in our indigenous culture bearer community. I and my dedicated research team have conducted interviews with sources globally. We have gathered and compiled data that proves that the presence of Madhunamatuna in our cultural and Indigenous spiritual communities is exploitative at best, and downright sinister at its worst.

I will share some of my findings with you.

Cultural vampires are outsiders who forcibly insert themselves into intimate familial settings and siphon off valuable knowledge that is meant to be the inheritance of children of that bloodline and use that knowledge to enrich themselves.

My research team conducted an interview with a well-known gwenyambira from a prominent culture bearer family in Zimbabwe (all interviewees asked to remain anonymous). During the interview, the gwenyambira shared that one cultural vampire had latched herself to their family for almost two decades.

Over the course of these two decades, this cultural vampire recorded every song their family has ever sung, wrote down all of the elders’ knowledge, and learned how to sing, dance, and play the family’s entire repertoire of Mbira dzeVadzimu music. This cultural vampire used this knowledge to secure hundreds and thousands of dollars in grant funding based on the ludicrous claim that she was keeping this family’s knowledge alive (see: white saviourism in the glossary of terms at the bottom of this article).

The family was unaware that this visitor they had welcomed in an act of kindness, as our ChiVanhu customs dictate, was in fact a thief. Once it became clear that this cultural vampire was profiting off this family’s inherited knowledge, this well-known gwenyambira threatened legal action against this cultural vampire.

The gwenyambira’s rightful argument was that this cultural vampire would have none of the clout and standing she has garnered as an alleged “international expert” on Zimbabwean mbira music, had this gwenyambira family not welcomed her and taught her everything they know. They settled out of court, and the cultural vampire now pays a monthly knowledge royalty to the family.  However, that monthly payment is paltry compared to what the cultural vampire earns from the exploited knowledge.

This is one story of many.

Madhunamatuna cultural vampires have been exploiting Madzimbabwe mbira music for close to a century. This exploitation began in the 1920s with one man called Hugh Tracey, and has now ballooned into a multi-million dollar international cult of mostly European and American cultural vampires. These cultural vampires operate by claiming to be the saviours and protectors of an allegedly “dying” mbira music tradition. They secure grant funding, teaching assignments, university professorships, and fellowships, and establish online retail platforms that altogether amass over a million dollars in revenue and salaries annually.

Calling the global collective of mostly European and American Madhunamutuna who exploit our Madzimbabwe mbira a cult is purposeful and studied.

The late Dumisani Maraire is credited as the man who introduced Madzimbabwe mbira music to the Pacific Northwest after he taught at the University of Washington and established the Zimbabwean Music Festival (ZimFest) in 1991. Many Madhunamutuna who play marimba or mbira will deflect any criticism of their behaviour by claiming that they are operating under Maraire’s blessing.

In 2016, I travelled to Seattle, Washington to speak with Maraire’s son, Tendai “Baba” Maraire. “My father regretted creating ZimFest. Near the end of his life, he told me, my brothers, and all those white people that he regretted ever bringing this music to them. He created a monster and towards to end, he could see it. In fact, one year, my brothers and I all [went] to ZimFest and we overturned the tables saying THIS SH*T IS NOT WHAT OUR DAD WANTED!”

A US-based source who attended ZimFest in recent years said, “I stopped going there because it’s creepy the way all these white women want to sleep with these Zimbabwean mbira players. It’s like they all want to go there and make a brown baby with these guys so that they can claim to be part of the culture, and that legitimises them stealing the culture, you know? Like the fact that they sleep with these men is what they think makes them part of “it” so they all make themselves available to these guys. It’s really nasty.” 

These narratives of financial and sexual exploitation shed light on the sinister realm of cultural vampirism – a global cult that feeds off of Madzimbabwe mbira music, cosmologies, and spiritualties for personal gain, by any means necessary; and shrouds this darkness under the disguise of white saviourism and do-goodism, claiming to preserve a “dying” culture.

Cultural vampires are spiritual terrorists whose actions mimic their barbaric colonial progenitors who savagely murdered our ancestors, forcibly stole our land, exploited our mineral and human resources, and upended our reality as we knew it.

Cultural vampires’ end-goal is to colonise our cultural and Indigenous spirutal knowledge. They do this by stealing knowledge from culture bearers families, claiming ownership and authorship of our Madzimbabwe cultural knowledge, taking on university positions and/or establishing non-governmental organisations that receive foreign grants, and forcefully inserting themselves into our Madzimbabwe spiritual and cultural landscapes and as the equals of those who have been granted this access through birthright and bloodlines – of which they have none.

My grandmother used to say, “Usadyiwe wakavhura maziso sekunge matemba.”

Giving Cultural Vampires such as Klara Ana Rosa Wojtkowska a visible platform to perform foolishness “kudyiwa takavhura maziso.”

As a Madzimbabwe people, we ought to love ourselves, our cultures, our cosmologies, and our histories so strongly and deeply that no outsider can ever lay claim to know these stories better than we do. These Indigenous stories, music, and spiritualities are our inheritance from Musikavanhu. We are Children of the Soil, and the stories of our ancestors are ours alone to tell.

Glossary of terms:

ChiMbire – the languages and practices of the descendants of Mambiri, a founding ancestor of VaMbire \people (present-day native Zimbabwean people)

Madzimbabwe – the geo-spiritual landscape encompassing the geographic areas inhabited by the descendants of Mambiri which includes present-day Zimbabwe

Culture Bearers: the artists, artisans, and practitioners who hold our centuries-old knowledge traditions in their bodies and express them through their crafts, creative practices, and/or healing traditions.

Madhunamutuna – apparitions or ghosts that disturb the peace. In the context of this article, Madhunamutuna specifically refers to European and American outsiders claiming to be preservers, experts, and/or anointed keepers of Madzimbabwe Indigenous Knowledge

ChiVanhu Chedu – Madzimbabwe Indigenous Knowledge

Witchcraft: a force that upends a people’s sense of stability through wicked means such as stealth, murder, and lies.

White Saviourism: the pattern of viewing Madhunamatuna as “rescuers” of VaMbire.

(Tawengwa is a composer, singer and scholar dedicated to the protection of indigenous Zimbabwean cultural production, knowledge sovereignty and creative arts education. She hold a doctorate in musical arts and voice performance from the University of Kentucky. This is the first part of her response to Klara Ana Rosa Wojtkowska’s article ‘Zim spiritual landscape has become so rigid and small-minded’ published in the Daily News on Sunday last week). 

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