Accepted Paper:

Religious and political sound of the mbira  


Yuji Matsuhira (Nagoya University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation discusses the relationship between sound activities, religion and politics. A lamellophone called "mbira" is a symbol of indigenous politics and religion of the Shona, because it is played for spirit mediums who are the religious and political leaders of local communities.

Paper long abstract:

Mbira is a type of lamellophone which is popular in Zimbabwe. It is deeply concerned with ancestor worship among the Shona. The Shona pray for their ancestors while they play the mbira. Then the ancestor spirit possesses the medium and gives the people advice. Therefore mbira is thought as a sacred instrument and it is called 'the mbira of ancestors'.

Mbira is not only religious but also political sound instrument, because the spirit medium is a political leader of the community. The greatest spirit medium of the clan assures legitimacy of the chiefs. The medium also makes customary laws when some troubles happen in the community. Mbira is always played when the spirit medium is possessed and talks to the people.

This paper examines the relationship between mbira players and spirit mediums. The relationship influences the transmission or diffusion of the mbira culture. There is a case of mbira masters who were split after the death of a spirit medium called Birinaganire. For generations, the spirit only possesses women of the Nyandoro clan. After the death of former medium of Birinaganire in 2013, two women insisted that they were the next medium of Birinaganire. According to the Shona custom, it is impossible for there to be two mediums with the same spirit at the same time. But this occurrence caused a split of the mbira players. This case shows the complicated relationship between spirit mediums and mbira players.

Panel P135
Sound cultures of Africa (CLOSED)