In the ‘Gods must be crazy’ film, we laugh at a southern Africa hunter-gatherer community, but as it turns out, there are many such communities around the globe that have defied civilisation.
When one talks of the BaTonga people of Binga, the image that immediately comes to mind is not always a rosy one.
To many, the BaTonga are just one backward community living on the fringes of civilisation, in the backwaters of Binga where they while away their time doing nothing except smoking mbanje and “taking more women into polygamous marriages”, as one observer might put it.
The BaTonga are often viewed as a community of people, not keen to embrace modernity. But the heart of the matter is that the Tonga people are just one of those rare breeds of people in Zimbabwe, who are remarkable for their desire to safeguard their culture and traditions at whatever cost. It is also evident that they are content with their traditional lifestyle, which is rooted in the dusty and rocky area of the backwaters of Binga, far away from the crowds of city life.
Although a few modern trappings like simple clothes have crept into their lifestyle, the Tonga still practise some traditions, and have kept them alive and across generations.
For instance, the Tonga people are just one Zimbabwean tribe that still derive livelihood from natural surroundings in a way similar to that of the ‘hunter and gatherer’ system among the ancient African tribes.
Although their daily routine in an effort to put a fulfilling meal ‘on the table’, so to speak, is often painstaking, most of their foods are rich in nutrition, nourishing and to a certain extent, herbal or therapeutic.
Their staple food is mhunga (millet), which they grind with a pistil and grinding stone until it turns into fine flour, which is then used to cook sadza.
So strong are their beliefs in traditional methods of doing things that to them, modern gadgets such as grinding mill, are unnecessary. Still, they feel the so-called modern lifestyle is not much of a money-based economy.
They rely on what Mother Nature provides for them. Take for instance a certain bean-like delicacy, which they call busika, and which falls from a tree.
“Our elders have been eating busika for a long time. It boosts one’s manhood. If your libido is low you can use busika. Though it is sour, you can also use it as a delicacy in your porridge or eat it raw. We don’t need to go for long distances to find Western medicines to have our ailments treated. Nature provides us.
Avoid harming lungs
One prominent feature that immediately puts an identity on most Tonga women of advanced age is the tobacco gourd with its pronounced pipe. The gourd is filled with water and stuffed with tobacco, and sometimes cannabis, which is popular with the elderly women.
“The water traps tar to avoid cancer or harming the lungs. This makes it easy for one to enjoy the stuff without having to worry about harming the lungs.
To the Tonga, modern means of transport does not matter much since they are used to trekking long distances.
While most Tonga people are still wrapped in their culture and traditions, there are, however, some from the area who feel Tonga’s way of life is a snare they would seize the earliest opportunity to escape from.
THE BATONGA TRIBE
The BaTonga have lived in the Zambezi River valley for many centuries
They are Bantu and migrated from the north
A spiritual people who just 50 years ago were scantily clad and sported reed ‘bones’ through their noses
When explorer David Livingstone encountered the BaTonga, he was startled by the traditional greeting reserved for eminent visitors — they faced away from him, knelt and wiggled their bare buttocks in his direction!
They have their own language, customs and traditions. They are also proud and fiercely independent.