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  • Lorraine Johnson

[71] The Time Of The Kanyi

It was January 1994. The time of the kanyi had just begun, bringing in the New Year as it does each year—a time when the people talk to their ancestors. And Chief Apolinario Tchaka Cossa was 76 years old.

A kanyi tree sits in a garden near the administration building in Maputo's district of Magude, named after a big chief called Magudzo. And Magudzo—who lived before the Portuguese colonized Mozambique—still lives in the minds and hearts of the people. The tradition of kanyi started with Magudzo and Chief Cossa's grandfather, Pokwana, and his grandmother, Nshavati. Chief Magudzo arrived in the village with timongo—the almond nut in the center of the Kanyi's fruit—and planted it near the administration. The seed was planted to grow a special tree for the spirits. It was the tree whose fruit made a traditional beer called wukanyi.

Kanyi is a fruit which produces almonds. The richness of the harvest depends on the rains. A good rainy season brings a bountiful harvest. And before the people enjoy the bounty from this tree, the chief needs to perform two ceremonies— otherwise they say a snake will kill you in the bush. The first ceremony, known as alimisse, provides space to speak to the ancestral spirits—the parents and grandparents who have long passed—to tell them the time has arrived. Cows are killed and the people eat and drink the beer prepared by the chief. The second ceremony, avongo, is when the people make the beer and take it to the Chief, who then goes house to house sharing and drinking wukanyi with the people. The people are happy because another year has passed—another year of life, another year of marriage—another year.

In 1945 the Portuguese arrived and Magudzo was no longer living, and the tree was full of wukanyi. The Portuguese people said they didn't like the tree because it drew mosquitos, and as it was near the administration building, they wanted to cut it down. The Portuguese administrator used laborers from the nearby prison to cut the tree—it was a large tree and needed many people. The following morning when they returned, the tree was there again—the same size and shape as it was before it was cut.

Even after independence, the new administrator defied tradition and tried once again to cut the tree down. And once again the tree appeared in the same place in its original form. It was said that they even had two soldiers shoot at the tree, who then became sick and later died.

This year, 1994, the ceremony was made once again under the big tree. Ceramic pots full of wukanyi sat in the shadows at the base of the tree, waiting to be drunk by wooden ladles and a few large drums. Traditionally, wukanyi should never be sold. It is said that when someone sells wukanyi, they could have bad luck, and sometimes the rains won't come the next year because the spirits are not satisfied.

And as such, over time, the non-believers became believers, and until this day in 1994, the tradition of Chief Cossa's grandparents continued. And the time of the kanyi arrives each year there after, and the people are grateful—they remember their ancestors, they drink wukanyi, and celebrate a tradition.


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