Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": RALUVHIMBA, THE HIGH GOD OF THE VENDA


The Venda are a Bantu tribe of northern Transvaal.

The name is composed of the prefix Ra-, which is honorific and perhaps connected with the idea of 'Father'; luvhimba is the eagle, the bird that soars aloft. It symbolizes the great power which travels through the cosmos, using the heavenly phenomena as its instruments.

'Raluvhimba is connected with the beginning of the world and is supposed to live somewhere in the heavens and to be connected with all astronomical and physical phenomena. . . . A shooting star is Raluvhimba traveling; his voice is heard in the thunder; comets, lightning, meteors, earthquakes, prolonged drought, floods, pests, and epidemics- in fact, all the natural phenomena which affect the people as a whole- are revelations of the great god. In thunderstorms he appears as a great fire near the chief's kraal, whence he booms his desires to the chief in a voice of thunder; this fire always disappears before any person can reach it. At these visitations the chief enters the hut and, addressing Raluvhimba as Makhalu [Grandfather], converses with him, the voice of god replying either from the thatch of the hut or from a tree nearby; Raluvhimba then passes on in further clap of thunder. Occasionally he is angry with the chief and takes revenge on the people by sending them a drought or a flood, or possibly by opening an enormous cage in the heavens and letting loose a swarm of locusts on the land.'

(H.A. Stayt, The Bavenda, Oxford, 1931, p.236)

Raluvhimba, it is said, was wont to manifest himself by appearing from time to time as a great flame on a platform of rock above a certain cave. With the flame there came a sound as of clanking irons on hearing which the people shouted with joy and their cries passed on throughout the country. The Chief mounted to the platform where he called upon Raluvhimba, thanked him for revealing himself and prayed on behalf of his people for rain, felicity and peace.
He is at times greeted spontaneously by the whole people in a way that is most unusual amongst the southern Bantu. The Rev. G. Westphal of the Berlin Mission relates that in 1917 a meteor burst in the middle of the day making a strange humming sound followed by a thunder-like crash. This portent was greeted by the people, not with terror but with cries of joy. Another Missionary, the Rev. McDonald, tells how after a slight tremor of the earth the was an extraordinary clamour among the people, the lululuing of women, clapping of hands and shouting 'The whole tribe was greeting Raluvhimba who was passing through the country.' People say that during an earthquake they hear a noise in the sky similar to thunder. Then they clap their hands to welcome the mysterious god and pray: 'Give us rain! Give us health.'
Dr H.A. Junod says that Raluvhimba is regarded as the maker and former of everything and as the rain-giver. If rain is scarce and starvation threatens, people complain: 'Raluvhimba wants to destroy us,' they say the same if floods spoil their fields. Prayers and sacrifices are offered in times of drought. There is some notion of Raluvhimba as Providence. He takes care no only of the tribe as a whole but of individual members. When a man has narrowly escaped drowning he will say: 'I have been save by Raluvhimba, Mudzimu.'
Raluvhimba is identified with Mwari (or Nwali) whose earthly abode (like Yahwe's on Mount Sinai) is in the Matopo Hills of Southern Rhodesia. Every year the Venda used to send a special messenger (whose office was hereditary) with a black ox and a piece of black cloth as an offering to Mwari. The black ox was set free in the forest to join the god's large herd which had accumulated there.


Edwin W. Smith, 'The Idea of God among South African Tribes' in Smith (ed.), African Ideas of God, a Symposium (2nd Ed. London, 1950) pp.124-126

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