Goats and the masungiro ritual

Livestock as a form of wealth

Sheila buys a goat

In 2002 Sheila completed her O’ levels and moved from her rural home to the nearest town to seek employment. Though she landed a low-paying job, she strived to save a portion of her earnings. Every month she would send some money to her mother, who became the custodian. When the stash was large enough, Sheila’s mother bought a goat on her behalf.

By the time she finally returned home after a two-year stint in the city, the goat had borne three kids. First, a set of twin she-goats (sheche), and later a he-goat (chikotora). A young man who lived close by served as the mumbudzi (one who looks after goats) while Sheila was away in the city. Fortunately enough for Sheila, as her goat was reared together with his it also bred with them. She later gave him the he-goat (one of the three born by her goat), as compensation for the services he had rendered.

3 goats later

Sadly, in 2007 Sheila’s mother passed away. Now the owner of three goats, Sheila offered one of her goats for slaughter at her mother’s funeral. This was more a way to honor her mother than it was to feed the mourners.

In the year following that of her mother’s death, Sheila got married and left her rural home to join her husband at his. She moved with her remaining two goats. The older she-goat went on to bear a he-goat, giving Sheila three goats – one he-goat and two she-goats.

Sheila reviews her investment

Realising that the mother goat was now really old, she decided to sell it and replace it with a younger she-goat. At that point, however, a he-goat was all she could find in the market. So she just went ahead and bought it after selling the old she-goat. Now Sheila had two he-goats and one she-goat.

After some time had passed Sheila finally found a she-goat then bought it after selling one of the two he-goats.


Later, Sheila got pregnant with her first baby. As with most rural amenities in Zimbabwe, the clinic was practically inaccessible and required a great deal of walking to get there. She delivered the baby at home – a beautiful and healthy boy. An elderly woman played the role of nyamukuta (mid-wife). As compensation for the services rendered, Sheila gave nyamukuta the he-goat, leaving her with only two she-goats. The goats continued to breed.

Sheila’s wealth: 6 goats 18 years later

Now, eighteen years later, she owns 6 goats – 4 she-goats and 2 he-goats. When I met her, Sheila was on her way to visit relatives in another part of the country. To fund her trip, she had sold one he-goat and realised the equivalent of fifteen United States dollars.

a middle-aged woman smiling
Sheila invested in a goat 20 years ago.

Taking a risk doesn’t always pay off

At some point, Sheila’s husband bought a she-goat. It bore kids that all died long before they reached reproductive age. One of them had choked to death after tugging and pulling the rope with which it was tied to a tree, as it tried to free itself. It is common for goats to be tied to trees while out in the pastures so that they do not stray.

Perhaps Sheila was just lucky? What if she had started with 5 goats?

Livestock and traditional rituals

Masungiro – Goats for ritual offerings

pregnant woman
Masungiro is a ritual offering made by a husband to his in-laws at the time of his wife’s first pregnancy

Goats have always been reared for their meat and milk, and are widely recognised as a form of wealth. As it is for Sheila, they are a store of value. In addition, goats are used for a variety of Shona rituals such as the masungiro ritual.


In true Shona custom, a woman is considered married when roora (bride-price) is given to her family by her prospective husband. Following this, the bride is officially handed over to the groom and his family – a practice known as kupereka or bereko.

At the time of the woman’s first pregnancy, her husband makes a ritual offering to his in-laws. This could be in the form of a head of cattle or two goats. However, it seems goats are the more common form of offering made.


According to the custom, when the woman falls pregnant her husband’s family sends a munyai (representative) to her parents with a token. This token is called mhere and serves to notify them of the pregnancy. In olden times, the token was a set of beads on a string. The munyai would go and place it by the doorstep at the in-laws’ then shout out a riddle to suggest to them their daughter was pregnant. He would then immediately run off before they could respond or engage him.


The woman and her husband cannot visit or see her parents until the masungiro ritual is performed.

Of the two goats given by the son-in-law, one is a he-goat (nhongo) called chidyamushonga and the other is a she-goat (nhunzvi). He gives the she-goat to his mother-in-law, who then ritually dedicates it to her matrilineal ancestors for the protection of the new family.

He slaughters the he-goat and skins it. Once he is done, he takes some of its offals – a piece of liver and some intestines, then presents them to his in-laws as a sign that he has finished slaughtering and skinning the goat. The offals are then roasted and everyone present is free to eat.


A portion of the meat is then cooked with medicine, hence the name chidyamushonga. This is done by a woman past child-bearing age. Sadza is also cooked and the meal is taken to the woman’s parents. A ritual is then performed whereby the parents take turns to offer a morsel of sadza and piece of meat first to their son-in-law, and then to the daughter. After this, they share the rest of the food.

Once all this is done, the woman and her husband are now free to interact with her parents.

The rest of the goat meat is cooked and everyone gathered can eat.

This ritual is still widely performed and observed today. Or maybe just a semblance of it.

What goat? – Shona ‘goat’ words

There is quite a number of different terms used in the Shona language when one talks of goats

While researching for this article, I came across a number of different terms used in the Shona language when one talks of goats. These are given below.

Shona termexplanation
benzvaShe-goat that has had progeny.
benzvaShe-goat provided for ritual cleansing ceremony required on occasion of an extra-marital first pregnancy.
chikwemeYoung (or stunted) he-goat.
chikotokotoYoung he-goat.
chime-eme-eFatal kind of goat sickness.
chime-eme-eBleating of many goats.
dimburaShe-goat that has reached the age of reproduction.
gotokotoUncastrated he-goat.
gokoOld goat.
gotora Uncastrated he-goat.
gutukutuYoung he-goat that has reached stage of reproduction.
gweme Uncastrated he-goat (fully developed).
katukuMedium-sized young goat.
mandaudziShe-goat that has produced one kid.
mbocho Uncastrated he-goat.
mumbudziOne who looks after goats.
n’anza Castrated he-goat.
nhumburamasosoGoat killed for eloped girl by family of her husband.
nhunzvi yembudziThe word nhunzvi is used to refer to females of small animals and fowls.
saibokoLong-haired goat.
saibokoBig he-goat.
sheche/ sheshe yembudziThe word sheche is used to refer to females of small animals and fowls.
timburaYoung she-goat (from birth to age of reproduction).
tsinheGoat given to vatezvara (father-in-law) by vakuwasha (son-in-law), and reciprocally by vatezvara to vakuwasha, to signify mutual satisfaction with marriage contract.

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