Historians, linguists and politicians consistently describe Ndau people as a Shona sub-group. Ironically, mother tongue lobby and advocacy groups are relentlessly vociferous in asserting a separate cultural, political and linguistic identity from Shona. Such a stalemate over Ndau’s historic-linguistic status particularly in the wake of its recent constitutional recognition as an official language gives rise to the following questions: How does self-ascription work among the Ndau people? How does a sense of ‘ubuNdau’ develop among its speakers? How sustainable and justifiable is Ndau people’s belief in a separate identity?
Despite the presence of oppressive linguistic, political and administrative instruments that were meant to assimilate Ndau into Shona during the colonial and postcolonial epochs, the Ndaus succeeded in drawing from their culture, kinship and family ties, traditions and language to project and solidify a powerful and distinct identity, unlike other linguistic groups.
The Ndau are an ethnic group that inhabits the areas in south-eastern Zimbabwe in the districts of Chipinge and Chimanimani in which they are natives. They are also found in parts of Bikita, in the Zambezi valley, in central Mozambique all the way to the coast and in central Malawi.
Because of the large-scale conquests of the Ngunis in the 1820s, a lot of the Ndau ancestry evolved to include the Nguni bloodline and ancestry. This is evident in the wealth of Nguni words in the Ndau language, Nguni names and surnames.
In the Ndau communities, people are born with a variety of spirits, thus spirit possession itself is a public manifestation of this relationship that is profoundly affected by local understandings of the Ndau self.
This is equally true for people who may have Ndau lineage that are born outside southeastern Zimbabwe, Malawi, or Mozambique.
This is evident in people in South Africa for example, that receive Ndau ancestral calling and initiate the Ndau spirit.