Ritual in Yvonne Vera's Nehanda

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

The women emerged from the caves carrying clay pots, which they had deposited there in the early morning, before the first rays of the sun, in rituals that excluded the men. The group gathered into two circles. The inner circle was made up of the women. Father stood in the middle with the child in his arms, facing the sun. He took the soil he had gathered from beneath a rock earlier that morning, in a ritual that excluded the women. He called to the ancestors that protected his lineage, and thanked them. He mixed the soil with the water in the black clay pot that had been handed to him by the women. He gave drops of the water to the~child to drink, and combined her with the soil.

"May you be an offspring of the earth," he muttered. He gave the child more water to drink. The women clapped their hands in celebration. Their hands were cupped, and their clapping was like the sound of their voices.

"They say the strongest tree is one that grows from beneath a rock." He poured some of the water on to a rock. Then he made an imprint on the ground, by holding down the child's foot. "May you find anchor on the earth." The rest of the water, which was mixed with the soil, and in which dead leaves floated, was poured over the child's body. . . .[19]

Then Father lifted the child to the bright sun, which received her with glistening rays, and the women asked the ancestors to protect the child.

"Bind the child to the mystery of the earth." "May the darkness of the sky bring her rest."
"May the light of the sky bring her wisdom."
"May the sun rise, and set, in her arms."

[Passage quoted from Yvonne Vera, Nehanda, Harare: Baobab Books, 1993, 20.]

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