Ngano| The moon and how the world was made: The kingdom of Dzimba Dzamabwe

Continued from Ngano| The moon and how the world was made

The offspring of Marinda

Mwedzi was restless; tossing and turning all night. He had never forgotten his first night with Nyamatsatsi. He woke up very early the following morning, wondering what to expect. When he looked at Marinda he noticed her body was swollen, just as he had suspected. She awoke, and he quickly assured her that everything would turn out alright. As soon as it was daybreak, just like Nyamatsatsi had done, Marinda began to bear. She gave birth to chickens, sheep and goats. On the second night they slept together again, and the following morning Marinda bore eland and cattle. The day after, she bore boys and then girls who by nightfall were fully grown.

woman with exposed pregnant belly
When he looked at Marinda he noticed her body was swollen, just as he had suspected.

On each of these nights, Mwedzi would smear Marinda’s and his loins with the oil. On the fourth night, he peered into the gona and realised that the oil would soon run out. He was worried as he remembered what Mwari had said. The oil was Mwedzi’s source of life, and without it he would die. Nevertheless, he rubbed some of the oil between his fingers so he could perform what had become his nightly ritual. Just as he was about to smear the oil, a thunderstorm broke out. Heavy rain fell as thunder rumbled and roared angrily. Branches of lighting tore across the sky, and it was as if the sky had waged a war against the earth. The animals sought shelter and some huddled together. The children ran to Mwedzi and Marinda and they all huddled together as they trembled with fear.

Mwedzi defies Mwari

Then they heard Mwari’s voice. ‘Mwedzi! I have warned you before. If you continue on this path, surely you will die.’ In no time after Mwari spoke out, the thunderstorm died down. This was the last time any one of them would ever hear the voice of Mwari.

The prospect of dying aroused so much fear in Mwedzi. Marinda however was not ready to give up. Thinking that they could hide from Mwari, she had an idea. ‘You should make a door to close the entrance of the hut,’ said Marinda to Mwedzi. ‘That way, Mwari will not see anything that we do.’ Mwedzi thought that was a brilliant idea. He made a door and they used it to close the entrance of the hut. So on the fourth night, Mwedzi and Marinda slept together once more.

‘You should make a door to close the entrance of the hut,’ said Marinda to Mwedzi.

Again, Marinda awoke the following morning swollen and ready to give birth. She bore leopards, lions and scorpions. Mwari, aware of Mwedzi’s heedlessness, was not pleased.

The kingdom of Dzimba Dzamabwe

On the fifth night, Marinda would not let Mwedzi sleep with her. ‘Listen,’ she said. ‘Your daughters are grown. Surely you could sleep with them instead.’ Mwedzi looked at his daughters. They had grown into beautiful young women. Mwedzi pondered for some time. The he took his gona, performed his nightly ritual with his daughters, and slept with them. At daybreak the following morning, the children gave birth to many boys and girls who by nightfall were fully grown.

Mwedzi became the mambo of a great kingdom which grew, united and powerful. They farmed the land, fished and had plenty. Under Mwedzi’s leadership, the people built dzimba dzamambwe; great stone mortarless structures characterised by huge walls surrounding a high conical tower. Dzimba dzamabwe served as the mambo’s royal court. Mwedzi’s descendants multiplied and filled the earth

The death of Mwedzi and Marinda

Since the time Marinda rejected Mwedzi she had developed a fond relationship with the snake. The two lived together and Marinda could no longer give birth. As the days went by, Mwedzi worried about losing Marinda. Soon it would be two years from the time she had come to be with him. He longed to be with her. One night he went to her and asked to sleep with her. Marinda was reluctant. ‘Now I am one with the snake and can no longer be with you,’ she said. ‘You have to leave.’ Mwedzi refused and went ahead to lie beside her. The snake was enraged and bit Mwedzi’s hand just as he was about to touch her.

Marinda had developed a fond relationship with the snake.

After the snake bit Mwedzi, he fell very ill. Strangely, Mwedzi’s illness seemed to drain the life out of all creation. In the days that followed, it did not rain. With no rain, there was no water for plants and animals. The plants withered. Animals and people starved, and it was not long before they began to die. Mwedzi was remorseful. He surely had chosen the path of death. As he lay there dying, he remembered the gona. He thought that the oil, his source of life, could cure him. He took the gona, only to realise there was no oil left. Without the oil there would be no life for him and all that he begot. Then he summoned his children. ‘I am dying, and all creation seems to be dying with me. I cannot allow this,’ Mwedzi said. ‘You shall seek divination from the hakata.’

The hakata pointed to one thing, Mwedzi had to die. His children were sorrowful. They however knew they had no way out of this, or else the animals and people would continue to die. They took him, and threw him into Dziva to die. Marinda was devastated. She said, ‘Now what have I done? I was created for Mwedzi and yet I have failed him. There is nothing left for me. I should go and be with him.’ Without warning, Marinda threw herself into Dziva, and she too died. It was exactly two years from the time she had come from Mwari.

Then the rain fell again and life was breathed into all creation. The people chose another mambo. He was a wise man, and under his rule the kingdom of Dzimba Dzamambwe prospered.


The recording of this legend is attributed to Leo Frobenius (1873–1938). I have retold the story in my own way, while trying to preserve its key aspects.

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