The mateza (singular deza) is a set of vessel drums played in the Ndau communities of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In the Chipinge District in southeastern Zimbabwe, they are primarily played in spirit possession ceremonies for mhongo spirits. Most mhongo are the spirits of people who originated in the Danda region of Mozambique and cooperate with nzuzu mermaid spirits to provide healing and protection during overnight ceremonies. Because of this association, the drums themselves are often considered sacred. They should only be made at the direction of the spirits themselves (or with their permission) and are often named and consecrated in a ceremony that prepares them for use during ceremonial performance. The round shape of the drum shells is said to resemble the pools in which the nzuzu mermaid spirits who help the mhongo spirits with possession and healing live. In Mozambique, they can also be heard during muchongoyo dancing, which is a secular dance rooted in the migrations of the nineteenth century as the Gaza Nguni traveled north from what is now South Africa. A single deza can also be used during performances for other spirits who have no specific ceremonial drums of their own, including the zvipunha (young nanny spirits) and zvaayungu (spirits from the war of independence in the 1970s).
The mateza described here comprises a set of four (some sets have five) tuned vessel drums (see gallery #1), each shell carved and hollowed out from a block of wood taken from a tree trunk. Each drum has a thick handle extending from one side to make it easier to carry (see detail #1). An unframed goatskin head covers the hollowed-out opening of the shell and is attached to it with about a dozen wooden pegs that are pounded into as many holes that have been drilled around the edge about an inch below the shell rim. A strap, also made of goatskin, with slits cut into it to allow the pegs to pass through it, is tightly stretched over the ring of pegs to further secure the head to the shell (see detail #2). The basic tuning of a drumhead is set at the time of manufacture but can be adjusted with heat or the application of liquid at the time of use in performance in order to make each pitch distinct and sharp enough to carry. There is also a hole at the bottom of each drum (see detail #3), which allows ceremonial participants to pour in beer as an offering to the spirits being invited, as well as water that can cool the drum head and lower the heat if left to tune for too long over an open fire.
Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production
Mateza are stick drums. They are placed on the ground, sometimes propped at an angle to make it easier to play and increase the volume, and played with two sticks per performer. The performer usually kneels on the ground to play. The lead player plays the three largest drums, called muoshwe (left), mukati (center), and muryi (right) (see gallery #1). Muoshwe is the lowest pitched drum, mukati is pitched the highest, and muryi is in between. The pitches themselves are relative but controlled with the application of heat or liquid to the drumheads prior to and during performance. On these three largest drums the lead player produces complex, polyrhythmic parts that take advantage of the three distinct pitches. These parts are improvised patterns tied to the songs being sung. A second player provides a repetitive ostinato pattern on the smallest drum (or drums), known as chimudumbana (plural zvimudumbana). Most ceremonial mhongo music is rooted in polyrhythmic, 12-pulse patterns that rely on combinations of twos and threes. These drums are accompanied by multiple singing parts, hand clapping, and makosho rattles (also called hosho). The resulting densely-layered texture of mateza music can be heard in Makwitika (audio #1). The text of this song is:
Makwitika waunza makwitika ndiani?
[Makwitika, who is it that brought Makwitika?]
Iyeye-ye, Makwitika ndiye wabarwe mhute mugomo
[Hey, it is Makwitika that was born in the mist of the mountains]
According to the beliefs of the Ndau, the mateza arrived with the spirits, who oversee their construction. The resemblance to pools suggests the influence of the nzuzu spirits. A specific date cannot be attached to their origin.
Johnston, Thomas F. 1971. “The Music of the Shangana-Tsonga.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.Perman, Tony. 2011. “Awakening Spirits: The Ontology of Spirit, Self, and Society in Ndau Spirit Possession Practices in Zimbabwe.” Journal of Religion in Africa 41(1): 59-92.