Of Giant Snails and Tradition; Fire and Totems….
In the Southeast lowveld of Zimbabwe, on the Save River, The Chauke Clan totem is the African Giant Snail….
here is my art installation of giant land snail shells and fire-fired clay pot…
read on to find the story behind this piece…
So….the story begins…
Seen here is a snail shell at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge on the Save River…
I never tire of sketching these wild and wonderful mollusks and their shells….
In the verbal history of the Changana Chauke Clan, living in the lowveld of Zimbabwe in the village of Chief Mahenye, there is a fascinating story told by the elders of how the Giant African snail came to be their totem.
Victor Chauke at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge has shared his Father’s story with me…as has Clive Stockil….
Back in those far-off days of hunter/gatherer existence, the Chauke family inhabited the Gonarezhou and Save Valley River area. Their Uncles, the Hlungwani family, had the knowledge and use of fire. The Chauke clan did not. Fire was supposed to be their totem- and yet they were deprived of it. By luck and daring, a Chauke clan member managed to collect some fire embers from the rival clan by using an empty giant snail shell as a receptacle for the glowing treasure.
The Chauke clan celebrated the fact that they had fire in their clan. They could now keep warm and cook their meat, and most importantly they could fire and harden the full-bellied clay pots that the women crafted to carry life-giving water, and cook relish.
Xangana pots, fired and beautifully hardy…..
Multiple uses of the fabulous fire-hardened pots included brewing of sorghum beer and collection of palm sap for palm wine!
So- the Chauke family adopted the Giant snail as their totem –
…..a creature which “withstood” the fire and also a creature which, even after a strong bush fire has passed, will eventually creep out of its underground hiding place to emerge victorious over the fire…!!
Since it is their totem, the Chauke family are not allowed to eat a snail and it is believed that if you eat your totem you will loose your teeth!
So, to this day the Chauke clan do not eat the snail and they use the fire as their slogan when they say ” (iyachisa) mulilo….” in their meetings and gatherings.
My art reflects the history of the snail shell, fire and pottery, in conjunction with Xangana tradition…