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Africa: Believing in the myths

25.02.2024 | by Leonard Ncube

Ulunyoka, the spell that binds love and punishes betrayal

IN the shadowed corners of tradition lies the practice of ulunyoka - a spellbinding ritual that binds a spouse to the fidelity with consequences dire enough to stir the soul. This ancient art of "centrally locking" a partner, known as ulunyoka in IsiNdebele or runyoka in Shona, is a clandestine safeguard against adultery, often cast without the knowledge of the one ensnared.
The spell, once cast, ensures that any extra-marital affair becomes a perilous endeavor.
Should an interloper attempt intimacy with the ‘fenced', they risk triggering the spell's wrath.
Only the original caster, the lawful spouse, holds the key to lift the curse, demanding apology or reparation from the transgressor.
Ulunyoka, however, is not without its critics. Gender activists decry it as a violation of human rights, a relic of a bygone era that perpetuates the subjugation of women - and men - for modernity has seen the spell's use by wives against husbands too.
The repercussions of ulunyoka are as varied as they are terrifying.
Some tales tell of lovers locked together, unable to separate, while others whisper of transformations into serpents or the materialization of snakes during forbidden trysts.
Some speak of a need to submerge in water lest they perish, and others suffer grotesque afflictions — swollen bellies, bleeding, or the manifestation of additional genitalia upon their visage.
Headman Jaheliduna Ndlovu, known as Mpisi, a traditionalist from the outskirts of Victoria Falls, affirms the reality of ulunyoka.
"Ulunyoka luyaphila (it is real) and it's in African Traditional Religion practice. It comes in different forms like using a knife, snake, fish, bees, and others. We have people that are known to do that or sell it," he proclaims.
Yet, the secrecy shrouding ulunyoka means few admit to wielding such power. Reports surface of Zambian hawkers peddling the spell on the streets of Victoria Falls. And while Mpisi avows that ulunyoka can be undone, the stigma often silences the afflicted, leading them to carry their burden to the grave.
"We now have many men and women that lock their spouses because ulunyoka is now easy to get. The problem is that people do not come out when affected. Those locked with a knife can be saved by unlocking the same knife used and some, especially those who would have slept with a person whose husband would have used isiduli (anthill) to lock them, survive by drinking the woman's urine.

"The problem is that we hide as we are embarrassed to go and apologize and pay. If you go back to the person you offended and pay they unlock and most people don't, that is why they die eventually.

"This is an African Traditional Religion practice and some make the mistake of trying to use scientific remedies this is where you find someone appearing as if he or she is cursed because all the people they get married to or have sex with will die because he or she will be locked by their former spouse," said Mpisi.

In Victoria Falls, whispers of ulunyoka's lethal embrace circulate without official confirmation, yet the community speaks of untimely deaths attributed to this arcane practice. Victims reportedly suffer from grotesque swellings and hemorrhages, igniting fear and superstition.

Gender activists denounce ulunyoka as a malevolent force, advocating for harsher penalties against those who wield it to inflict suffering upon their spouses.

"It is better to leave the person than to lock them because when you die they can never marry and enjoy the marriage," said a gender activist, Noma Moyo.

The Christian perspective, as voiced by Reverend Travena Chichoni, recognizes ulunyoka as a manifestation of distrust within marriages, a stark contrast to the ideals of trust and true love that should underpin the sacred union. Reverend Chichoni acknowledges ulunyoka's deep roots in African Traditional Religion (ATR) and its portrayal as a charm of fidelity, yet she maintains that faithfulness is the ultimate safeguard against such practices.

"The issue is mainly talked of in the ATR and other phases of the Christian sects and mostly our African-founded church. Of course, it's a myth as most logical concepts come from myths. It's a faith in the religious arena used to preserve marriage according to P. Dewa (2014) which was cited to be a fidelity charm. It is said to be treated and most religious practitioners use prayer and deliverance.

"My advice is that runyoka is real and married couples should be faithful to one other. Trust should be one pillar to cultivate on as married couples because runyoka is deadly and mainly psychological," she said.

Musawenkosi Vundla, known as Ithwasa Lodumo, a traditionalist-prophet, challenges the notion that ulunyoka can be easily dispelled. He asserts that only the originator of the spell possesses the arcane knowledge to undo it, warning of deceitful healers who claim otherwise, leading to fatal outcomes.

"The pin code for ulunyoka is known only by the person who administered it and that is the only person that can treat it. If I as Ithwasa Lodumo administered it, no one else can reverse it. Some Healers might lie to people that it is reversible and that is why people are dying because the person who administered it might refuse to reverse or fail," he said.

Ithwasa Lodumo encounters numerous individuals seeking to secure their marriages through ulunyoka, yet he cautions them of the grave risks involved, especially if the caster passes away, leaving the surviving spouse ensnared in a deadly spell.

"There are many people who come asking for it and I always counsel them telling them that it's dangerous if you die, the surviving spouse will face challenges and kill spouses who marry or have sex with him or her," he said.

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