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How would you feel, knowing that not only your big brother, sister and parents are looking out for you, but that your grandparents, great-grandparents, and all of their ancestors before them continue to watch over you, protect you and care for your well-being? Well, aside from making you a bit paranoid, you'd hardly ever feel alone and you would probably feel a lot safer wherever you'd go in your life. The Shona believe that death is a passage of the body from one physical form to another, and when the spirit leaves the body, it becomes part of a higher world of living spirits. Although the majority of Shona believe in God, they more widely believe that it is their ancestral spirits that act as their supernatural protectors. This is one of the principal beliefs within the Shona religion, whose customs, like mbira music have all been orally passed down for generations.
After a year has gone by, the family holds a special ceremony to welcome the wandering spirit back to the family. The spirit will speak to the family by entering the body of a person in the family and taking control of the person for a while. This person, called the "spirit medium," is usually the oldest son but sometimes the spirit will choose someone else. The spirit lets people know who it has chosen by causing an illness that seems incurable in the person it chooses, one that can only be diagnosed and treated by a n'anga (African doctor).
Into that same night, festivities will be held at which point the mbira will be used as the primary vehicle of communication with the spirit, to please it and welcome it home. The mbira instrument has all of the necessary elements to "call" the ancestral spirit to participate in the ceremony. The player uses Shona prayers, poetry, and words of praise to further persuade the spirit to come. This ceremonial performance is the most important religious and spiritual function of the instrument in the traditions of the Shona culture. Throughout the ceremony the spirit is also said to possess the spirit medium. The following morning, the relatives carry pots of beer and approach one of their bulls. After pouring the beer on the bull's head it is expected that the bull will shake its head signifying that the spirit is happy. If not, the next person will pour their pot of beer on the bull's head, and then the next person, until the bull finally shakes his head. Once he does, the family will again celebrate the security of a new ancestral spirit.
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