Ngoma-lungundu, A Drum That Is the Voice of God

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(Venda/South Africa, Zimbabwe)

The Drum of the Dead was brought to its present location by the Senzi people, who are today called the Venda.

The sacred drum of the Senzi belonged to their departed ancestors at the time when they were living in the north. Among all their musical instruments, the greatest, and that which was feared and revered most by all the people, was this instrument of the royal ancestor spirits, the Drum of Mwali, the ancestor god of the Senzi and the Kalanga. This drum was called the Voice of the great God, Mambo wa Denga (King of Heaven), the lord of all the ancestor spirits. The king was feared because he could work miracles with this drum of the gods. His enormous city was built on a mountain. The drum was seen and beaten by no one except the high priest, Dzomo la Dzimu, the mouthpiece of God, and the king, Mwali. No one could look upon the king: he spoke through the high priest, whose voice reverberated in a terrifying way. The palace was guarded by lions, the dogs of the king, and by snakes who had heads on either end. When rain was needed, the king was petitioned, and when the drumming of Ngoma-lungundu was heard, they knew that the king had heard them. The drum could not be looked at. Once, when the people quarreled among themselves, Mwali, angry, spoke through the drum and many died. But the people continued to fight among themselves, and in the end Mwali left them, to go under the earth, to become the ancestor-god of the people. When they hear the earth shake, they know that he walks on the clouds or under the earth. When the king vanished, many people fled or died with him. Mwali bequeathed his powers to Tshilume, his eldest son, to whom he gave a small drum of the spirits, also called Ngoma-lungundu. This drum helped the prince when he was troubled by his enemies. It brought rain when it was needed. Some years later, Mwali's voice told the son to move his people to the land beyond the Limpopo. And so the people moved. The drum, enclosed, was carried by six men, with the injunction by Mwali that it must never touch the ground. During the migration, the people were protected by Mwali and the drum. They came to the Kalanga people, who were overwhelmed by their numbers and acquiesced to their presence. They continued to move south. They went to the country of the Nyai, and Mwali told them to move on. Then the drum of the spirits fell to the ground one day because it had not been placed carefully in a tree. A storm resulted, lions sent by Mwali ravaged the people, many died. The king went up a hill and did not return. Then all abated, and they continued under a new king to the valley of the Limpopo. When the king died, Hwami took over the leadership. Few people remained, but the drum made their enemies fear them. But the Pedi did not fear the drum, so Hwami and his people moved to another place. They migrated to the country of Tshivhula and settled. Dyambeu, Hwami's great-grandson, succeeded him, and they traveled to the east, using Ngoma-lungundu to subdue any who stood in their path. On the Plain of Tshisonga, they built a camp and prepared a shelter for Ngoma-lungundu. But at one point the drum, blown by the wind, fell to the ground, and the people were massacred and the drum taken by the enemy, the Tavhatsindi. With the help of Mwali, they recovered the drum and overcame the Tavhatsindi. The eldest son of Dyambeu, Bele, was selected king.


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