It is evident that the Shona peoples do believe in a class of mhondoro who are distinct from the ordinary mhondoro of tribal significance, although they are not always clearly distinguished as such by being placed in a separate category. These supratribal mhondoro seem to be a small group and include Dzivaguru, Chaminuka, Nehanda, Mutota and Karuva as the greatest. There appears to be a degree of confusion and doubt as to the exact origin of these spirits, but in all probability, they were the spirits of ancient dynasties who ruled over the land before the present chiefdoms were established. The supratribal mhondoro have significance, not for a specific chiefdom, as do the tribal mhondoro, but for many and diverse chiefdoms. Their widespread fame and influence appear to be due primarily to the belief that they can produce rain, particularly during periods of drought — a reputation largely established by the successful activities of their mediums. Not being confined to a specific area, the mediums of these mhondoro wandered extensively over the land “making rain”, thus acquiring for their spirits supratribal significance. In addition, these spirits came to be accorded a higher status than the ordinary tribal mhondoro through their older and prior claim to the land they were said to “own”.
Since these spirits have a narrow field of interest which centres mainly on rain, there are only a few rites directed specifically to them. The majority of these rites are carried out during periods of drought and could be described as both distinctive and peculiar to the supratribal mhondoro.
The cult groups of the supratribal mhondoro encompass people from numerous chiefdoms, bound together by ties of common recognition of a spiritual power who cares for them, and a common loyalty to the land they share. The concern of these spirits is not with the individual, however, but with matters that affect the group which falls under their particular guardianship.
As the fame of these supratribal spirits extends over numerous chiefdoms, the mediums themselves enjoy considerable importance in many and diverse regions. However, the status of the medium does not depend solely on the historical status of the spirit, but also to a large degree on the personality and ability of the medium. Conversely, the fame and influence of the supratribal mhondoro can be extended through the successful activities of their mediums.
The importance of the supratribal mhondoro in the religious system of the Shona lies in their position as intermediaries between Mwari and the people, especially in the sphere of rain, which is regarded as their particular responsibility. These spirits are regarded as being very close to Mwari, and thus in the spirit hierarchies of the Shona peoples they are placed next in importance to Mwari, with the tribal mhondoro and the midzimu, “ancestral spirits”, ranged beneath them in descending order of power and significance. In spite of the elevated position of the supratribal mhondoro in the spirit hierarchies, however, it is in fact the midzimu who play the most important part in the daily lives of the people, the supratribal spirits being approached only in times of crisis.
The supratribal mhondoro have great significance for the political affairs of the Shona people, in so far as the cults of these spirits, composed as they are from numerous chiefdoms, serve to bind together many and diverse chiefdoms into loose political alliances. They also play an important role in the economic affairs of the people, and, to a lesser degree, have influence in other areas such as marriage.
Finally it would appear that the traditional beliefs and practices relating to the supratribal mhondoro have persisted, particularly in the rural areas. In fact, the growing awareness of their identity as Shona people has produced nativistic tendencies, and today the influence of the supratribal mhondoro appears to be as strong as it was in the past.