Returning to my Sekuru

20 Jul

The Shona belief of the word sekuru in stone

The mening of the word sekuru

In the Shona language the word sekuru has different meanings. Basically it is a word which defines the relationship between members of a family. Besides that, the word is also used for expressing strangers, like an elderly man showing a kind of respect.
In families the word sekuru is used for the paternal or maternal grandfather. This is understandable, these are elderly people. When you are female it is also used for the brother of the mother (uncle) and for his son. This is not so understandable, because even the uncle is treated as a husband. The wife of the uncle is your rival. If you are a male the uncle is your rival, because his wife is treated as your wife. How it will function in practice, I don’t know.

The maternal uncle is also regarded to become a replacement for the mother. He can be asked for advise, when you have a problem, that reaches out of the competence of the mother. That is also a task for the uncle, when the maternal grandfather dies and the eldest sekuru has to take over his role. In that case the mother will call him father.

The function of the sekuru in the Shona culture seems to be very complex and the urge probably has a reason. If you want to read more about the Shona sekuru-relationship, read the article of Chipo Musikavanhu on her blog

Is sekuru a theme in the Shona stone sculpture movement?

Did the Shona sculptors from the first generation use the theme sekuru within the carving of theirs sculptures? I think it was not a usable theme for the sculptors. I detected only two sculptors, who carved sculptures in relation to the theme sekuru, i.e. the late Joseph Ndandarika and Sylvester Mubayi, two great sculptors of the first generation.

Joseph Ndandarika

Let us start with Joseph Ndandarika. In 1977 he carved a sculpture, which he called: The Midzumu Bull (see picture 1)

Unnamed image (97)
Fig. 1 The Midzumu Bull, sculpted by Joseph Ndandarika, 1977

midzumu is an ancestral spirit in Shona belief. When a sekuru (elder) had died, his spirit would be passed over to a young bull. The spirit would be kept inside the bull, for two years old. After that the bull  was killed. The spirit of the sekuru is then released and united with the spirits of his ancestors.

Joseph Ndandarika realised toexpose this story in one stone. When you look at the figures behind the bull, the outer left one holds the pot, in which the spirit was kept. The middle figures are blowing the spirit into the bull. The outer right figure holds the club to kill the bull afterwards. It is a nice sculpture in green springstone. The sculpture refers to the spirit of the sekuru.

Joseph Ndandarika was born in 1940 from a Malawian father and a Shona mother. His paternal Malawian grandfather had migrated to Zimbabwe long before that and became a highly respected n’anga (witch doctor). Joseph was apprenticed to become a witch doctor too. He spent some time as a neophyte trained to become a young traditional healer (Monda, April 2015). But he converted to Catholicism and went to the Serima Mission. There he joined Father John Groeber who was building a mission and  a church. Father Groeber taught youngsters  painting and sculpture for the decoration of the church. When the church was finished, Joseph Ndandarika went back to his parents in Mutare.
In 1959 Joseph Ndandarika joined the Workshop School of the National Gallery, first for painting, clay-modelling and carving in wood. In 1960 he started with sculpting in stone, when he met Joram Mariga in Nyanga. He became a well-known sculptor.

Joy Kuhn wrote in her book ‘Myth and Magic’ (1978) that she had an interview with Joseph Ndandarika. He told her his beliefs when he was sculpting in his early days. He referred to his Malawian grandfather, the n’anga, and told herthat the grandfather had a story:
“He used to go home to Malawi in ten minutes time to fetch a fish from there (…).  He went on  the bird, the manjojo bird. That bird was magic and my grandfather could ride on him”.
And Joseph sculpted an old man with a pointed head , riding on a bird (1978:83).

Joseph Ndandarika had a profound respect for his sekuru.

Sylvester Mubayi

Sylvester Mubayi made a sculpture in 1997, which he called: ‘Returning to my Sekuru’ (see Fig. 2). It is a nice sculture in springstone, representing a man with a child. This is a clear reference to the sekuru. Why Sylvester Mubayi used this theme is unknown, but there could be a reason, which I will explain later.

Fig. 2 Returning to my Sekuru, sculpted by Sylvester Mubayi, 1997 (Joosten, 2001:275)

Sylvester Mubayi was born in 1942 in the Chiotah reserve near Marondera in the North Eastern Zimbabwe. In 1966 he was looking for a job and he met Tom Blomefield, who just had started with the Tengegenenge Sculptor Community. He joined Tom Blomefield and became one of the leading sculptors in Tengengenge. But not for long. In 1968 he went to the Workshop School in Harare. The Workshop School was founded by Frank McEwen, director of the Rhodes National Gallery.

Frank McEwen made Sylvester Mubayi his leading sculptor. He rated him as a greater sculptor than Henri Moore (Zilberg, 2006:n.p.).

After Independence in 1988 Sylvester Mubayi had a One Man Exhibition in the Francis Kyle Gallery in London. In a review of this exhibition Michael Sheperd of the Sunday Telegraph wrote as follows:

“Now that Henri Moore is dead, who is the greatest living stone sculptor? When I were to choose, I would choose from three Zimbabwean sculptors – Sylvester Mubayi, Nicholas Mukomberanwa and Joseph Ndandarika” (Mawdsley, 1997).

Also in 1991 The Guardian (U.K.) voted Sylvester Mubayi as one of the top 10 sculptors in the world (Monda, June 2015).

Did Sylvester Mubayi create the sculpture ‘Returning to my Sekuru’ after a statement, made by Joseph Ndandarika 

Joseph Ndandarika was a well-known sculptor and became a wealthy man.Tony Monda wrote that he met Joseph Ndandarika in 1989 for an interview and the latter spoke to him with the words: “I am the great Shona sculptor Ndandarika – who are you”? (Monda, April 2015). That was two years before his death. Joseph Ndandarika died tragically in 1991, barely 50 years old.

Just before his death, he is alleged to have spoken these words:

I am now wealthy and famous, but I am dying.

At last my spirits call me back to my remote childhood village.

There my sekuru receives me  with such compassion and gentleness,

that I weep on his lap.

Could these words have been the reason for Sylvester Mubayi to sculpt the sculpture ‘Returning to my Sekuru’ in 1997? It seems to be a fact, a child on the lap of an old man.

Someone had the knowledge of this, then he or she puts the words of Joseph Ndandarika and the stone of Sylvester Mubayi together in a picture (see Fig.3).


Fig. 3 Returning to my Sekuru

This closes the circle. Two great sculptors expressed their respect for the sekuru, the paternal grandfather, in words and stone.

Maastricht, July 2015
Pierre Swillens

Cited references:

Joosten, Ben
2001 Sculptors from Zimbabwe, the first generation, Galerie de Strang
Dodewaard The Netherlands

Kuhn, Joy
1978 Myth and Magic, The Art of the Shona of Zimbabwe., Don Nelson, Cape Town

Mawdsley, Joceline
1997 Chapungu: The Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe, Harare: Chapungu

Monda, Tony
April 2015 Joseph Ndandarika – (1940-1991) … the n’anga who became a famous shona sculptor
June 2015 The last lion of Zimbabwe stone sculpture

Musikavanhu, Chipo

Zilberg, Jonathan
2006 The Frank McEwen Collection of Shona Sculptures in the British Museum


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