THE SOUNDS OF THE SACRED WEB FESTIVAL

Gule Wankulu performance during the SOSAWEF Festival. The Gule dance is a Malawian traditional cultural performance

The Sounds of the Sacred Web Festival (SOSAWEF) was a celebration of the rich and diverse spiritual, ritual, material culture and artistic influences of cultural interactions and heritage happening within a purpose build ALL AFRIKA VILLAGE thematic park. The festival was centred on the establishment of this safe space for cultural and artistic dialogue and interactions within a context propelled by the of traditional African knowledge systems.  Through this festival Dzimbanhete Arts and Culture Interactions Trust and its partner Oja Cultural development Initiative in Nigeria promoted intercultural dialogue and cultural exchanges amongst diverse audiences in an accessible manner to collectively celebrate, discuss and document African heritage and culture over a period of 17 months.

The Sounds of the Sacred Web Festival (11-13 December 2020), was a hive of activities; from traditional performances, music, chants, folklore, storytelling and traditional costume exhibition by the participants. The festival was lined up with performances from the Mbende Jerusalem Dance group from Murehwa, The Bharo Children’s Dance group from the nearby community, the Ndau performers from Chipinge, The Tonga performers from Binga, the Doma traditional leaders from Guruve, the Venda performers from Limpopo Province in South Africa, representatives of the Igbo and Hausa from Nigeria and the Gule Wamkulu from Malawi. The esteemed Guest of Honor on the occasion was Dr. Biggie Samwanda, Director- Arts, Culture Promotion and Development in the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation who gave a befitting speech presented in one of the local languages to celebrate and uphold to aesthetics of the festival and uplift the community. Present on this day was also the Director of Culture Fund Zimbabwe, Mr. Farayi Mupfunya. Alkebulani Sound Systems a Sosawef collaborator, provided the much needed state of the art PA System.

SOSAWEF achievements.

Rehabilitation of the All Afrika Village & the Cultural Residency Program  was aimed at building two villages namely the Zimbabwean Village with 5 huts from around Zimbabwe (Karanga, Ndebele, Ndau, Tonga and Doma) and the Nigerian Village with the Igbo compound of 3 huts. The two Villages were to be the site space for the festival. The basic hut structures of the two villages were completed within the first six months of the project and a Healing Centre with one very large hut that serves as a cultural court and a small hut that serves as the Shaman’s healing room “Dare ”where established. In the second phase of the project however we decided to go beyond the set target and established two more villages, that is, the Botswana and the Namibian Villages. The construction of these two villages was advantageous to meet the needs of shelter required for the festival in December.

The building of one of the huts in the Zimbabwean Village.

The Architectural/Cultural Residency Program saw SOSAWEF hosting 8 technicians and cultural experts who came to the All Afrika Village to direct the building of their respective indigenous villages. The residency program was designed for artists, architects or cultural enthusiast to understudy while supporting expert builders as they led in the architectural discourse, construction and narrations on materiality and underlying aspects of their village structures. Notably, the Healing Centre was unveiled during the tour of the Culture At Work 2nd Networking event where we hosted 64 guests from 15 different Afrikan countries at Dzimbanhete on the 19th of February 2020.

A research Trip to Nigeria focusing the Igbo people in South East Nigeria was implemented in October 2019. This marked the first activity for the festival in preparation of the construction of the Nigeria Villages within the All Afrika Village thematic park.

The research was essential in acquiring knowledge on the cultural complex of the Igbo that also encompasses indigenous architecture, language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, ritual and spirituality. These unique ways of knowing are important facets of the cultural diversity that SOSAWEF aimed to display, and provided a foundation for locally appropriate discussions on sustainable development during the festival. The research did not only seek to inform the building of the Igbo compound in the thematic All Afrika Village, but also to provide perspectives from a different culture that will contributed to the discussions on cultural policy within the festival, it emphasised the role of intercultural dialogue and sharing priorities and concerns that have emerged in the need to safeguard cultural heritage. The contributions included knowledge and experience on safeguarding endangered language, spirituality, tangible heritage and cultural practises.

The Obu/Obi hut of the Igbo people of Nigeria housed in a state museum in Enugu State.

All Stakeholders and Launch was hosted by the district office of the Ministry of Youth Sports Arts and Recreation (thanks to Ms. Tarisai Gusho the provincial Arts and Culture Officer) in support of the Dzimbanhete Arts and Culture Interactions Trust to introduce the All Afrika Village and the Sounds of the Sacred Web Festival to various stakeholders within the district who were expected to play a significant role in contributing towards meeting the communal objectives of the project for our shared communities. The meeting was a success with the presence of the District Administration Office, the Regional Aids Council, the Zvimba Rural Chief and sub-Chief, Environmental NGOs, cultural groups and youth leaders.  Some important issues were raised particularly the relationship between the SOSAWEF and matters dealing with rural development and empowering the youth for sustainability.

Three Traditional Ceremonies were hosted for the Sounds of the Sacred Web Festival build-up activities. The first was the Bira Rekuvhura Mwaka in 2019, the second was the Bira Rekuvhara Mwaka and raining petitioning ceremony and the last was Bira Rekuvhara Mwaka in 2020. Both are annually celebrated ceremonies in Karanga culture. Bira Rekuvhura Mwaka ceremony marked the beginning and the ending of the 13th sacred month whereby the ancestors go to conference with Musika Vanhu/ Mwari (The Creator). The first Bira (in December 2019) was hosted on the day of the launch of the festival making it a significant event for this cultural festival as this awarded us an opportunity to say our prayers for divine guidance throughout the festival activities. The second Bira (in October 2020) also marked our first activity after the 7 month long Covid 19 lock down period.

The last traditional ceremony was the Bira Rekuvhura Matare, another annual traditional ceremony that celebrates the end of the sacred period of Mbudzi and ushers in the beginning of the New Year according to traditional cultures in the 13th Month of the Karanga calendar, the month of Bandwe.

Traditional Healer’s Conferences and traditional leaders’ panel called a Dare was held as platform to impart indigenous knowledge to the participants. The traditional healers were able to articulate themselves and respond to the questions that arose and clearly demonstrated how traditional knowledge is generally transmitted; orally, experientially and is learned through hands-on experience and not taught in an abstract context.

Cultural Conversations was hosted in collaboration with National Gallery of Zimbabwe under their flagship event the ‘Harare Conversations’ a well-established artistic platform. The conversation which was themed Rethinking Epistemes: Uprooting Toxicity and Moving towards a Socially Engaged Practice was marked with speakers from different ethnic groups from Africa; A South African of the Zulu ethnic group ubaba Menzi Maseko co-founder and Director of The Institute of Afrikology and a Nigerian from the Igbo ethnic group, Nna Jeff Unaegbu writer, film maker and the Principal Cinematographer in the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nigeria. The other participants were Sinyoro Chikonzero Chazunguza the Creative Director of Dzimbanhete re, Samaita Jonathan Goredema the Cultural and Spiritual Director of Dzimbanhete representing the traditional healers and Dziva Phillip Kusasa the founder and Director of the Ndau Arts Festival representing the Ndau tribe.

The second conversation was held during the tour of the Culture at Work 2nd Networking group which visited Dzimbanhete and the All Africa Village on Wednesday the 19th of February to tour the village and have an experience of the Sounds of the Sacred Web Festival venue. The afternoon was colored with introductory and cultural conversations by the two Dzimbanhete Directors, a tour of the site space with the DACIT team and improvised performances by both local and the visiting musicians from within the visiting delegation from all over Africa. In keeping with the theme of the festival, the participants were treated to a spiritual meditation practices and tree planting. The sharing of the traditional brew “Hwamatanda” which was especially made for the occasion highlighted the afternoon.  

The third conversation was online and organised by Oja Cultural Development Initiative in Nigeria. The theme of the conversation was Culture as a Healing Tool and it was necessitated by a desire to see cultural promoters engaging communities to promote peace and healing, this conversation was designed to cross-pollinate ideas from creatives across the board who are promoting culture in their communities.

Kumusha Children’s Day Camp was a one day camp meant to expose kids to village life through engagement in a real life activities: Mahumbwe format. Mahumbwe is a traditional learning process of playing and acting while recreating real life experiences; as such children got to know what happens in a village from food processing, the chores and the responsibilities of family members. The camp assimilated the village life by engaging characters that are real, in a village set up and environment that was uniquely designed for experiential learning.

On arrival, children were taken for a walk to tour the village, where they were received by Ambuya (female elder) and Sekuru (male elder). A traditional snack kicked off the village activities, with village introductions and chores, which took them until lunchtime. A traditional lunch was served and after lunch, children were introduced to traditional games, music, dance and storytelling. The camp ushered in the children into a world of cultural appreciation and broaden their understanding of different cultures, most of whom have never really experienced an organic village setup.

Children’s Mentorship and Traditional Dance Workshops the young minds mentoring were designed during the Kumusha Children’s Day Camp. Many of the children who attended were from the surrounding rural/farming communities and our interactions with them on this day brought a huge alert on the need to create a safe space for these children who are exposed to different abuses from birth because of the lifestyle in the farming compounds.

The mentoring sessions evoked an alternative paradigm of education and social growth. We believe this method to be effective in ensuring intergenerational communication enhanced by storytelling, observation, ceremonies, myths, legends and proverbs. Children exposed to these teachings will absorb the intrinsic values of their culture, values reinforced by adult living.

Community Film Screening – SOSAWEF collaborated with Sembene Across Africa to run a 3 day film screening in the ALL AFRIKA VILLAGE. The screenings which were a celebration of the life and work of Ousmane Sembene took place every evening and were part of the ground-breaking program, bringing African cinema to our community free of charge and having discussions after watching.

Outreach Programs

Our SOSAWEF partnering organisation in Nigeria Oja carried out an outreach program in Oboli Ndị Agwụ Community in Enugu under the theme Culture as a tool for healing. The Oja team went out on a healing visit to commensurate with families that lost their children and teacher in the terrible accident involving the school bus of Presentation Nursery and Primary school. The pain unleashed on the community is something one cannot explain. With gifts of consolation as is the Igbo culture the outreach program was received with warm regards and respect from the village elders and the families of the deceased. 

In conclusion through this festival Dzimbanhete Arts and Culture Interactions Trust and its partner Oja Cultural development Initiative in Nigeria together with other stakeholders promoted intercultural dialogue and cultural exchanges amongst diverse audiences in an accessible manner collectively celebrating, discussing and documenting African heritage and culture. The SOSAWEF activities upheld tradition as symbols of continuity of cultural values derived from past experiences which shape the present.

The activities which ran throughout a 17 month period achieved notable milestones in bridging the tension gaps created by modernity and belief systems that place emphasis on points of difference rather than parity. These activities such as cultural residencies, community film screening, conversations and traditional ceremonies created unity, broadmindedness and appreciation of indigenous culture for our audiences.

Additionally these activities provided a neutral platform to heal, promote peace and understanding of different traditions and rituals by digging deep into scared traditions that contributed to the oneness of our people. The festival was able to engage participants evoking an appreciation of culture as a crucial element in our people’s survival as it is the product of their direct experiences with nature and its symbiotic relationship with the social world. This knowledge, ancient, proven and based on cognitive understandings and interpretations of social, physical and spiritual worlds, encompassed concepts, beliefs, and perceptions of the participants.

The Sounds of the Sacred Web seems to have been well suited for these hard times we are living in. Happening at a time when the Covid 19 pandemic has disrupted many systems of knowledge and had almost rendered them useless at the present moment, culture and indigenous knowledge seem to be providing the solution in Africa and beyond. A renewed awakening and awareness of the importance of culture knowledge systems has been ignited and we are at the heart of it providing platforms such as the SOSAWEF and spaces such as the ALL AFRIKA VILLAGE to shape the discourse bridging communications gaps between generations and diverse cultures. This festival was instrumental in facilitating the sharing of the knowledge systems as epistemic recuperation for the African.

The Ndau and Ndebele huts in the Zimbabwean Village.
The Healing Centre and the Shaman’s hut.

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