Number Sayings, Numerology and Myths in Shona Culture in Zimbabwe.

Author:Chirume, Silvanos
Position:Zimbabwe: The Royal Residence - Report


Culture is the way of life of every people. There is no culture without language and there is no culture without number. Therefore, it suffices to conclude that for every culture to sustain its very existence and continuity, it has to have its own unique way of counting and attaching meaning to numbers. Hence, the motivation and purpose of this study relates to the reality that during early primary school and as a child, the researcher often played with friends and sang the popular counting song "One for Sorrow" (, albeit in a somewhat different way. The researcher later realised that the meanings attached to these numbers in the English song could be due to fun rather than to reality or superstition.

Thus, could the numbers in the Shona culture mean the same as in the popular English song? This study was triggered by the desire to learn and understand how the Shona people in Zimbabwe count numbers and if the numbers they pronounce in their riddles, proverbs and idioms are 'just numbers for numbers' sake', are superstitious or mythical or are positively related in one way or the other to their cultural ways of life. The paper therefore seeks to analyse meanings of numbers in Shona and relationships between numbers and Shona sayings, riddles, idioms and or proverbs as they relate to the daily ways of life of the people. Hence, according to Ferch (2007, p. 1), the Shona people are tied to Shona culture and thus to the language Shona, which is spoken by about 10 million people in Zimbabwe and surrounding countries. The major subsections of Shona are Karanga, Zezuru and Korekore. Manyika, Ndau, and Kalanga are considered dialects of Shona by some authors and independent languages by others. The Shona people represent over 80% of the population and thus the Shona are culturally the most dominant group in Zimbabwe. The Ndebele largely absorbed the Karanga group when they moved into western Zimbabwe in the 1830s (Shona People Traditions and Culture, n.d.)

The theoretical framework underpinning this paper is that of functionalism. The founding fathers of the functionalist perspective are Emile Durhkeim, Talcott Parsons, Herbert Spencer and Robert Merton, among others (Mooney, Knox and Schacht, 2007). According to Durhkeim, for example, the functionalist theory emphasizes that a society 'functions' or is sustained if its constituent parts (norms, values, rules, customs, institutions, etc.) work together to maintain balance or 'societal equilibrium.'( If something happens to disrupt the 'balance' or order within the society, that society will adjust itself to maintain the equilibrium or will be forced to adjust by external forces. For any society to function and maintain its equilibrium, its people should have collective consciousness, values, norms and rules. In the Zimbabwean Shona culture, there are also number-related beliefs, rules, and values which are critical so as to maintain order, 'balance,' survival, and continuity within the society. For example, the saying 'rume rimwe harikombi churu' ('one man cannot encircle a mound alone' - which means that one person cannot do all things alone) is intended to foster the spirit of working together and helping one another, be it in the field or elsewhere, so as to produce enough food to feed the people. Thus according to functionalist theorists, society should be analysed and described in terms of functions.

Furthermore, the problem herein is that some elders and some youth who speak the Shona language have shown ignorance of number symbolism or its uses. While knowledge related to the significance of numbers is important because it is tied to the Shona people's cultural way of life, to their survival, happiness and prosperity, the indigenous knowledge related to the significance of numbers among the Shona people is rarely taught at school and therefore this knowledge is likely to be lost.

Consequently, particular research questions arise, such as (1) what are the Shona equivalent of the English cardinal and ordinal numbers 1 to 10, (2) what are the common number sayings and number-related myths in the Zimbabwean Shona culture, (3) of what numerological significance are these common numbers and number sayings to the Shona people in Zimbabwe, and (4), how do the common number sayings and number-related myths influence beliefs and ways of life of the Zimbabwean Shona cultural people?


The researcher collected the data when he had visited his grandmother in Govere village, Churumanzu district...

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