is believed to be a powerful cultural drum with remains resembling it once
housed in the Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences in Harare. A month ago, Esther
Chipashu a curator of Ethnography at the Zimbabwe Natural History Museum in
Harare presented about the drum in question at an event in the United Kingdom.
said the drum was taken for custody by the Zimbabwean government since it
attracted a lot of attention from varied ethnic groups in Zimbabwe and Jewish
researchers from outside the country. Apparently, the drum is associated with
some intangible spiritual value.
tradition has it that the drum was used during rainmaking ceremonies and other
important cultural rituals. In fact, the Ngomalungundu is said to have been a
strong magical drum with extraordinary powers. Whatever the myth surrounding
the drum is a cause for interest since it involves our very own country and who
knows the fate or fortunes it carries.
of the drum has been a controversial issue among many ethnic groups which want
to associate themselves with it. Among them are the Lemba (VaRemba) people who
a minority group of the zhou totem found predominantly in Maberengwa, the Venda
people in Matabeleland South province and the National Museums and Monuments of
Zimbabwe (NMMZ) which is the current custodian of the drum.
million dollar question is who is the rightful custodian of the drum? Is it
national heritage or heritage of a particular group of people with intangible
aspects that need the rightful people to conserve and preserve? Besides, will
the descendants of those who invented the drum and its magic be able to access
and use the drum accordingly? Culturally, it does not necessarily mean that the
drum has ceased to carry its spiritual value regardless of how worn out it has
become. Most people seem to deliberately avoid the subject for, not only
because it leads to more questions than answers but also because it stirs acute
controversy. It, however, still worthy the discussions and literature since ignorance
of one’s distant past leads to stagnation in knowledge accumulation.
VaRemba people, also known as the black Jews, claim that their ascendants
migrated to Zimbabwe with the drum in question. There is a hypothesis that the
Ngomalungundu is the Biblical Ark of Covenant which Moses was instructed to
build at Mount Sinai as he led the Israelites out of Egypt.
VaRemba, also known as Mwenye people, are an ethnic group that speak Bantu
languages spoken by their geographical neighbours whom they even resemble
physically yet they have some religious practices and beliefs similar to the Biblical
Jews. They observe practices like circumcision; place a Star of David on their
tombstones and many other practices. The
fact whether these people are really Jews, and even more are the actual owners
of the Ngomalungundu is more apparent than real
because it seems as if since they are a minority group, maybe they are
only trying to draw attention for the sake of greater recognition in the
nation. Their Jewish ancestry is controversial since the evidence is only
attained from oral tradition which has a number of weaknesses as a historical
source. Research shows that DNA in 2000 people of the society did not support
claims for a specifically Jewish genetic heritage. Somehow, the stories do not
tally, there is something missing and one may ponder their real association
with the Ngomalungundu.
to the Jewish hypothesis, the drum was last seen 2500 years ago in Jerusalem.
It was then found by a Swedish missionary, Von Sicard in the early 1940s at
Dumbwi Mountains in Mberengwa. It was taken to the by then National Museums and
Monuments of the colonial Rhodesian government.
was rediscovered in 2007 in a forgotten shelf in the Zimbabwe Museum of Human
Sciences in Harare by a British Professor Parfitt. In 2010, an unveiling
ceremony was held in Harare with that government officials, National Museums
and Monuments and some members of the VaRemba ethnic group. The drum has been
taken by NMMZ on tours to other parts of the country but it is queer that it
has never been taken to Mberengwa where it supposedly belongs, where the black
Jews are found today.
Venda hypothesis has it that the Ngomalungundu, which in their native language
is known as the drum of the dead, was brought to its present location by the
Senzi people, present day Venda. According to them, the Ngomalungundu was the
drum of Mwali, the ancestor God of the Venda and the Kalanga people. It was the
voice of the great god (Mambo weDenga). The drum was seen and beaten by no one
except the high priest Dzomo la Dzimu and Mwali, the king whom they now regard
as their great ancestor. The Venda say king Thohoyandou disappeared with the
drum and nobody knew about its whereabouts until something with remains that
resembles it was found in Mberengwa.
puzzle pertaining Ngomalungundu remains debatable though over and above, there
is need to preserve it. Apart from conserving and preserving the aesthetic and
economic value of cultural objects, their spiritual value should never be
ignored for we should consider that such artefacts have their essential role;
they are our grounding and they make us who we are.
cultural heritage practitioner who presently teaches at Errymaple High School
in Zvishavane. The views and opinions expressed in this article are purely the
author’s in her own capacity and do not necessarily represent any organisation