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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)

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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


Sculptors from Zimbabwe (part 1)

5 mei

My first experience with the study of the Zimbabwean stone sculpture during the period 1950 – 1980

Beeldentuin Maastricht – Heerdeberg

In the neighbourhood of Maastricht in the Netherlands, the city where I live, there is  a sculpture garden, called Beeldentuin Maastricht – Heerdeberg. The owner of this sculpture garden is Mrs. José de Goede, a former auctioneer and assessor of art and antiques. She has a long time experience in exhibiting and selling Zimbabwean stones in galleries. Almost every year she travels to Zimbabwe in order to buy sculptures directly from the sculptors. She knows the sculptor and their families very well and she invites them, like the (late) Bernard Matemera and Edward Chiwawa, to give workshops in her sculpture garden.

The sculpture garden is in the vicinity of a marl quarry. The quarry forms the outline. The sculptures are partly arranged on banks near the border of the quarry and partly in a natural garden (Fig. 1a + 1b).


Fig. 1a Group of sculptures near the border of the quarry


Fig. 1b Group of sculptures in a natural garden

 José de Goede is very committed with the sculptors in Zimbabwe. She founded the Bernard Matemera Foundation. With help of this foundation she is building schools for children in Zimbabwe and supports the families of sculptors, who run out of income by occasion.
As I mentioned before, she invites well-known sculptors from Zimbabwe in her sculpture garden to give workshops. Last year she welcomed Edward Chiwawa with his son McCloud and another junior sculptor to teach in her sculpture garden.

Book ‘Sculptors from Zimbabwe’ by the late Ben Joosten

This book is published in 2001 by Galerie de Strang, Dodewaard, the Netherlands, and holds a lexicon of all the sculptors of the first generation.

The lexicon is divided into five sections, with sculptors from the:

– Cyrene Mission, headed by Canon Edward Paterson;
– Serima Mission, headed by Father John Groeber;
– Workshop School in Harare, headed by Frank McEwen;
– Nyanga Group, headed by Joram Mariga;
– Tengenenge Sculptor Community, headed by Tom Blomefield.

 Ben Joosten was a very conscientious man, he got his information on the stands. As far as he managed to research, he mentioned from each sculptor his bibliography , his exhibitions and the collections, as well as where his of her sculptures are saved. So  if you have to look up some information about a sculptor from the first generation , you will find this in the book. Will someone ever write such a book about sculptors of the second generation?

Mrs. José de Goede donated me, as Ambassador of the Beeldentuin Maastricht-Heerdeberg the book of Ben Joosten and from that moment on I started my study of the development of the Zimbabwean stone sculpture in the period 1950 – 1980.
Studying the book of Ben Joosten I questioned myself: “Are there any sculptures of sculptors from the first generation in the Beeeldentuin Maastricht-Heerdebeerg?”

Bernard Matemera

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 First of all a sculpture from the late Bernard Matemera. Mrs. José de Goede told me, that Bernard Matemera sculpted twice in her backyard in the Netherlands before his death in 2002. I could not believe that the famous Bernard Matemera, one of the best real Shona sculptors, would sculpt in a backyard in Holland. Mrs. José de Goede assured me that Bernard Matemera was a gentle man, who always kept his word.

Unfortunately he died at a young age (56 years). He was such a remarkable man, that  I will spent more honour to him at a later moment in my stories.
The sculpture from Bernard Matemera in the sculpture garden Beeldentuin Maastricht-Heerdeberg is a self-portrait and for a long time it has been the property of Mrs. José de Goede (Fig. 2)

Fig. 2 Self-portrait, sculpted by Bernard Matemera

If you look at the sculptures from the sculptors of the first generation, then you will see that most of them had a gimmick or a trademark. So didUnnamed image (62) Bernard Matemera. When he sculpted a person, he always sculpted three fingers on each hand and three toes on each foot. That story is not unlikely. I found on the internet that slightly north of Zimbabwe there is an isolated tribe, called the Doma People. Most of them have only two toes, the outer toes. The toes are developed in a V-shape and people called them ostrich-feet. The two toes are caused by a genetic defect.
Bernard Matemera must have been aware  of that and sculpted all his human figures with three fingers and three toes. That is his trademark (Fig. 3).

Fig.3 Family, sculpted by Bernard Matemera (1987)

Fanizani Akuda

Another sculptor from the first generation I  found in the sculpture garden Beeldentuin Maastricht-Heerdeberg was Fanizani Akuda. When Mrs. José de Goede went to Zimbabwe she met Fanizani Akuda and his wife (Fig. 4).

m_Unnamed image (49)Fig. 4 Mrs. José de Goede (right) meets Fanizani Akuda and his wife

Fanizani Akuda always kept his best stones for her, when she met him for buying stones. Unfortunately Fanizani Akuda died on February 5, in 2011.
Fanizane Akuda was born in 1932 in Zambia. In 1946 he went to Zimbabwe for a job. In 1967 he arrived in the Tengenenge Sculptor Community and asked Tom Blomefield for a job. Tom Blomefield gave him the job of digging stones for the sculptors. Some day he asked Fanizani Akuda to try sculpting, but the latter refused because he was afraid that by sculpting small stone splinters would get in his eyes.
After a short time Fanizani Akuda changed his mind and when Tom Blomefield repeated  his offer, he accepted the tools for sculpting. In a short ime he became a successful sculptor (Joosten, 2001:153).

Fanizani Akuda also had a trademark. He had a lot of humour and when he sculpted a person he always sculpted closed eyes. He wanted to illustrate prevention that the person might get  stone splinters in his eyes (fig. 5).

Fig. 5 Small stones , sculpted by Fanizani Akuda and exhibited in the sculpture garden Beeldentuin Maastricht-Heerdeberg

When Fanizani Akuda grew older he sculpted only small sculptures,  like Whistlers. The mouths of this whistlers were made with a bit and he sculpted blown cheeks (see Fig. 5). I wrote that he had a lot of humour. I read a story he told someone. When you strike with your finger over the mouth of the whistler, then you hear a sound. I tried this with the small whistler in Fig. 5 , but I did not hear a sound. Perhaps I did not strike in the right way.

Edward Chiwawa

Another sculptor from whom you will find sculptures in the sculpture garden Beeldentuin Maastricht – Heerdeberg is Edward Chiwawa. He was  born in Guruve (Zimbabwe) in 1935 and he belongs to the Shona people. He started sculpting in Guruve. He brought his sculptures to  a stand in the Tengenenge Sculptor Community. There was also his four years older nephew Henry Munyaradzi sculpting.  In 1979 the situation in Guruve was dangerous due to the War of Liberation. Edward Chiwawa moved with his family to Harare. He now lives  in Chitungwiza (Joosten, 2001: 175).

I had the opportunity to meet Edward Chiwawa in the sculpture  garden Beeldentuin Maastricht – Heerdeberg, where he sculpted and gave  workshops with his son McCloud (Fig. 6).


Fig. 6  Edward Chiwawa daily sculpting in the sculpture garden Beeldentuin Maastricht – Heerdeberg

Mrs. José de Goede told me, that every morning at 9.00 am she heard Edward Chiwawa being busy with sculpting and he did not end until 8.00 pm.

Edward Chiwawa had also a trademark. He mostly sculpted  Moon heads, with  the same face. When he made a frame around the sculpture he called it a Sun head, always the same faces. He  also made a complete  ball with that face, and he called it Moon ball.

I bought two small sculptures made by Edward Chiwawa and he was so nice to add his signature under a stone . He was also willing to pose for a photo with me and my wife (Fig. 7)


Fig. 7 Edward Chiwawa posing with me and my wife.

When I asked Edward Chiwawa  the titles of the stones we just had bought, I thought  he said Moonjets. When I told this to Mrs. José de Goede, she said “Edward doesn’t speak English very well, he means Moon heads”.

Below illustrations of the Sun- and Moon heads from Edward Chiwawa (Fig. 8a + 8b)

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Fig. 8a Edward Chiwawa showing a Moon head

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Fig. 8b Rising Sun Head, sculpted by Edward Chiwawa


So I will end my first impression of the start of my study of the Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture in the period 1950 – 1980. My paperwork will not be scientific, because I am not a scientist. But it will be an expression of my true believe in the development of African Art, especially stone sculpting, in a short period in Zimbabwe.

I will try to find out the  circumstances when this development took place and who were the participants taking  part in this. At the end I hope to get an answer about the question: “Was the Shona stone sculpting in Zimbabwe authentic and what was their value for the Art World”.

As I am prejudiced in favor of a positive answer on this question I will sometimes be  contrary to the common opinions of the scientists about this matter. I hope they do not mind it.

As Ambassador of the sculpture gallery Beeldentuin Maastricht – Heerdenerg I shall not hesitate to stipulate their role in the  development of the Zimbabwean stone sculpture.

Maastricht, February 16, 2015

Pierre Swillens

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