RASTAFARIANISM, where marijuana (mbanje) is grown and smoked freely, is a practice that many of us never imagined could be openly practised in Zimbabwe.
Report by Jairos Saunyama
What with Zimbabwe’s laws against the weed as the Rastas call mbanje. But a visit to Cherutombo Rastafari House in Marondera proved otherwise. The Rastafarians practice their religion as freely as any other.
They have a shrine that, from a distance, looks like an ordinary hill.
As I approached the shrine, I was greeted by dazzling elegance.
The hill and its surroundings are kept spick and span with the vegetation well maintained.
The Zimbabwe national flag and Rastafarian flag flutter in the wind a few metres from the shrine entrance to enable congregants to easily locate the house.
Upon entering the shrine I was told to remove my shoes and jewelry.
I saw two shrines, a small one and a big one where the Rasta community hold their religious services. The shrines are endowed with lush green plants of marijuana both on the inside and the outside.
The plants are “an endangered” species as members tread carefully to avoid stamping on them.
In the middle of the main shrine was an altar made of stones covered with the Zimbabwe national flag and on top of it were a variety of fruit.
Few metres from the entrance stood Alexander Munyukwi, who is called the high priest or commissioner-general of the Cherutombo Rastafarian community.
He is the most decorated priest I have ever seen and he was clad in khaki regalia lined up with Rastafarian colours. His jacket was decorated with portraits of President Mugabe, Emperor Haile Sellasie, Menen (Sellasie’s wife) Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King.
The barefooted lanky priest stood in absolute silence and it was quite clear he was meditating.
From his belt hung a small sceptre, while his shoulders were laced with stripes — insignia for a person with a high position in an organisation.
Standing in trance next to him was a Bingi warrior (one who plays the drums) called Blessing Ziyanga. The warrior, dressed in similar regalia, but with fewer stripes, was the most vocal of all as he always chanted the name of Sellasie whom he referred to as “The Most High”.
All the men in the house had their heads bare, while the women covered their heads. The women, who were fewer, put on decent long dresses and skirts.
Everyone who entered the shrine did so in a clockwise manner. When one wanted to get out, he or she would go around the altar on his or her way out.
The smaller shrine was surrounded by a huge fire that was kept glowing till the Sabbath was over. Young Rastafarians took turns to stoke the fire.
The high priest opened the Sabbath with chants praising Jah. The Bingi warriors started beating their drums rhythmically while the high priest lead the vocals praising Jah.
After the praises, the members then headed to the smaller shrine before encircling the fire.
The fire is used for “baptising” people and “consecrating” them. Apart from marijuana, fire is also sacred at the shrine as it purifies a person.
According to the high priest the fire is to be kept alive always and no garbage is allowed to be thrown in it. As they gathered around the fire, each member took turns to read from the Bible.
Everyone who had the Bible picked something from the book of Psalms. Where it was written God, Lord or Jehovah the reader would substitute with the word Jah which was often read in a high-pitched voice before others responded with “Rastafari”.
Latecomers went around the fire three times to be purified before entering the main shrine.
After the Bible reading, the members of the house started worshipping Jah through songs before going back to the main shrine.
As everybody got seated in the shrine, the high priest and other two male members returned to the fire where they consecrated a big smoking pipe.
The pipe, known in Shona as Gonamombe, is made of a dried small pumpkin gourd and had its top filled with dried marijuana. After lighting the pipe, the high priest took the first pull and handed it over to two other members.
The pipe was then brought to the main shrine where it was passed from one member to the other. Every member in the house took a turn at the pipe.
After that came the time of “reasoning”. This was indeed a time of reasoning as every Rastafari, after smoking weed (which they say it gives wisdom), contributed to various topics that were being discussed. The topics included women’s dressing, ganja-smoking and the Internet.
During reasoning, the pipe was rotating around the brethren as they continued smoking. The marijuana was smoked without fear of the police as the high priest said his church was registered and that police in Marondera knew about it. Smoking marijuana is part of the church’s proceedings and they refer it to as a herb which cures diseases and gives wisdom.
As reasoning continued, a member of the house rose and blessed the fruits on the altar before the high priest started sharing with the congregants. The fruits represent life and according to the high priest they are called the first fruits that give life.
The fruits were followed by a cake which was made of mealie-meal and marijuana seeds. After the cake and fruits, water was handed out to all the people.
After reasoning, a seven-member group circled the altar and they held what is called the seven heartical prayer.
The number seven represents the seven angels, seven seals, seven gates of Zion and seven days of the week.
Each of the seven members prayed to Jah before the high priest concluded with another prayer. After the service I felt relieved as I realised that I was not affected by passive smoking. I was also afraid that the police would raid us as mbanje was being smoked freely, but the high priest assured me that police would not arrest us.
“We are a registered church and we do every practice here, even the police know everything we do,” he said.