13 Jun 2007

Mbuya Nehanda

Posted by K Chikuse

nehandaLiving in the Hills around Mazowe, Zimbabwe, were various sub-chiefs including Wata and Chidamba. In the Chidamba Village lived the famous Shona spirit medium Mbuya Nehanda (Charwe Nyakasikana, c. 1862-1898). She must have had great authority even before the 1896 – 1897 Rebellion and it is interesting to note that in a map drawn up showing missionary work by the Anglican Church after 1888 there is a village in the area called Nehandas. She was a powerful woman spirit medium that was committed to upholding traditional Shona culture, she was instrumental in organizing the nationwide resistance to colonial rule during the First Chimurenga of 1896 -7. Even Lobengula recognized her as a powerful spiritual medium in the land.

According to historical sources the original Nehanda was the daughter of Mutota, the first Monomatapa who was living in the escarpment North of Sipolilo in about 1430. This some 70 odd years before Christopher Columbus discovered America and Bartholemew Dias reached the Cape . Mutota was the founder of the Mutapa state, and he also had a son who later became the second Monomatapa. This son was called Matope, and he was Nehanda’s half brother. To increase the power of Matope, Mutota ordered his son to commit incest with his half sister, Nyamhika, who became widely known as Nehanda. This incest ritual is believed to have increased Matope’s rule and his empire, and due to this Matope handed over a portion of his empire to Nehanda who became so powerful and well known that her spirit lived on in the human bodies of various spirit mediums over the years until almost 500 years later when we find it occupying the body of the Mazoe Nehanda.

Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana was considered to be the female incarnation of the oracle spirit Nyamhika Nehanda. As white settlement increased in the land, according to sources, Nehanda initially welcomed the occupation by the Pioneers and counseled her followers to be friendly towards them “Don’t be afraid of them” she said “as they are only traders, but take a black cow to them and say this is the meat with which we greet you.” Unfortunately relationships became strained when the settlers starting imposing taxes, forced relocations, forced labor, etc.As colonialism began to get its grip on the natives of Zimbabwe, there was a military drive to rid the land of the British settlers.

The collective efforts of the locals to get rid of the British colonialist in the period of 1896 – 1897 have become known as the First Chimurenga. Due to the cultural beliefs of the locals, the leading roles behind the rebellion were by three spirit mediums. The rebellion was initiated in Matebeland in May 1896, the leader there being Mukwati, and in October 1896 Kaguvi and Nehanda from Mashonaland joined in; these were the three critical people behind the rebellion. Kaguvi was believed to be the spirit husband of Nehanda, and it may have been this connection which enabled him in due course to persuade Mbuya Nehanda to preach the gospel of war resistance in Mashonaland, which led to the first Chimurenga.

The role as well as the influence of the spirit mediums in form of Kaguvi and Nehanda, can not understated. As far as the people were concerned Nehanda and Kaguvi were the voices of Mwari. Kaguvi, and later Nehanda (after convincing by Kaguvi) preached that according to Mwari the cause of all the trouble that had come upon the land was the white man. They had brought the locusts and the rinderpest, and to crown it all, they, the owners of the cattle which had died, were not allowed to eat the meat of the carcasses, which had to be burned or buried.

Mwari decreed that the white men were to be driven from the country. They, the natives, had nothing to fear, Mwari would turn the bullets of the white man into water. For her role in the resistance a warrant was issued for the arrest of Nehanda. Nehanda was able to avoid arrest for over a year but she was eventually captured at the end of 1897 and brought to trial in 1898 for her part in the killing of native commissioner Pollard. Pollard had created great resentment among her people by thrashing Chief Chiweshe for failing to report an outbreak of rinderpest among his herds. He was captured at the outbreak of the Rebellion and an eye witness reports as follows:

“So they took him to Nehanda.” She said “Bring him here.” Then she came and knelt down and spoke with Pollard. I then heard Nehanda say to Watta “Kill Pollard but take him some way of to the river or he will stink. They took an axe and they chopped of his head. “

So Nehanda along with her Spiritual husband were both charged with murder – Kaguvi for the death of an African policeman, and Nehanda for the death of the native commissioner Pollard – and summarily sentenced to death by hanging. At Nehanda’s hanging there was drama, which could have been a display of her spiritual powers. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to hang her. An African prisoner present at her hanging then suggested that the hangman should remove from her belt a tobacco pouch. This was done and on the third attempt she was successfully hanged. Nehanda’s dying words were, “Mapfupa angu achamuka”. There were numerous and strenuous attempts by a Catholic priest to convert her to christianity but she remained defiant to the end, but Kaguvi gave in and was converted.

Nehanda is rightfully honored by the Shona people as a resistance heroine. Her fortitude both before and after her arrest is remarkable, it played a critical part in Zimbabwean History. Her heroism became a significant source of inspiration in the nationalist struggle for liberation in the 1960s and 1970s. Her name is now usually prefixed by the respectful title of Mbuya. The main maternity hospital in Harare is name after her as well as several main streets in Zimbabwe

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12 Responses to “Mbuya Nehanda”

  1. Well I like history


    Ngonidzashe Makaza

  2. Can someone explain the nyamasvisva totem



  3. what a so nice participation that a Mashonaland women did to the whites .Job well done Nehanda rest in peace kkkkkkkkkk


    wesley t mwale

  4. ah i laughed a lot an article which is meant to preserve people history must at least respect facts if it loses fact it makes the whole credibility at stake.In this article the author state that Nehanda rose to fame right about 1896 which i agree , but i don’t agree with a blatant lie that King Lobhengula recognized Nehanda.Lobhengula fled into Zambia in 1893 and died among Zwangendaba / Angoni in 1894 he did not live to see 1896 , please chech historical facts well before your worlk losses credibility.



  5. apa mataura chokwadi!“The ‘essential nature’ of the African IS eternal! No person really dies; only bodies die.”thank you!*



  6. I enjoyed reading this article. Am now a step ahead. Thank you


    Ivy Chibanda

  7. No need for ‘The Bones of Nehanda’ to concern themselves about the so-called ‘god’ (or ‘allah’) of the criminal invaders to African ancestral space.The Western word/concept “god” is merely a figment of ignorant and overworked imagination! There is absolutely no reality to that foreign word/concept ‘god’! It is a throwaway word, a garbage word. And that is why the vast majority of euros do not bother with ‘god’ and the rest of the christian crap: The euros may be evil and beastly in their historically destructive behavior; but they aren’t all unintelligent, at least not superficially unintelligent.Trying to find out what ‘god’ equates with in Shona or African culture, is like trying to find out what the nonsense word ‘vreeacmaicaticl’ equates with. It equates WITH NOTHING of value.The words/concepts ‘god’ and ‘allah’ are merely part of the the FOREIGN, mind-wasting and mind-weakening religious rubbish of criminal invaders.The aim is to deceive unawake Africans into thinking and believing that somehow those foreign nonsense words/concepts (‘god’, ‘allah’) have relevance and resonance in African culture, and are somehow superior to the real Beings of African culture. They DO NOT! Its all nonsense & LIES, part of the ‘successful brainwashing of SOME Africans, but not all!Many Africans know the truth about the LIES of the criminal invaders of Africans; and in time & with even a little contemplation, others will also come to know that the ideological insanity imposed on Africans, are really meant to brainwash Africans in being mental slaves to criminal invaders. It’s time to liberate the mind from the mental enslavement to foreign rubbish.The ‘essential nature’ of the African IS eternal! No person really dies; only bodies die.Therefore the ancestors continue to exist as ‘beings without gross physical bodies’. Nehanda knew this fact, represented this truth, and lived this truth.That is why the wise Nehanda could have stated with confidence that her “bones will rise again”, and so ensure the successful Chimurenga against the pale plague that invaded from Europe.Those who invested lives, limbs, labor, blood, sweat & tears to ensure the successful Chimurenga are ‘The Bones of Nehanda’! And Nehanda lives on with the wise ancestors, as a ‘beings without gross physical bodies’. Some Africans need to become awake again to these eternal truth about human eternal existence, which were well documented by the African ancestors of Nile Valley Civilizations for many thousands of years.



  8. this contribution comforts me in a way because i wondered how mwari=god knowing that christianity came to zimbabwe with missionaries recently.if nehanda and kaguvi were the voices of mwari/god then do you not see there is a problem some where with the translation. anyway shona history is very interesting and thanks for the mashona wordpress.



  9. Yohwe um surprised at how little i know about ambuya nehanda infact ndasvoda since um zimbabwean and u cant be a zimbo and not acknowledge Nehanda.i read somebody else’s school of thot regarding the mwari-god issue and he thinks ‘god’ was actually mudzimu/svikiro remaIsraelites,hameno kufungawo kwake but i agree nyaya yakauya neva rungu yechristianity ine nhema mukati zvokwadi



  10. So from reading this interesting article I have to wonder then…when did ‘mwari’ translate to being ‘God’ (from the christian perspective)? If Kaguvi and NeHanda were voices of ‘mwari’ and also incarnations of spirit mediums of the 1430′s…how then did mwari and God mean the same thing? I respect christianity was even baptised but when i start going through our history of Zimbabwe and other once colonized nations I begin to wonder how christianity could have been a good thing for us considering it was the missionaries that paved the way for colonizers…and its very suspect too how mwari was then translated to mean God when clearly they meant different things. I wonder how different Zimbabwe would have been if we had held fast to our original version of ‘mwari’



  11. WOW what a story…Shona



  12. Thank you for this contribution. Your contribution has prompted me to do further research into the element of incest in Zimbabwean culture. I do not remember well where I heard or read about the practice of incest especially amongst people with the totem Mwoyo Chirandu, I am one myself. It is said that incest was used by appointed Chiranhu Chiefs as a means of increasing powers. It is understood that a newly appointed Chief of the Mwoyo Chirandu totem had to go through the incest ritual and this eventually resulted in the expulsion of the Chirandus from Great Zimbabwe (I think). I am not quite aware of the actual facts but I will work on my research. Are there any Chirandu Chiefs who are still practising such rituals?? Of course it would be discreet given modern day laws regarding incest.


    Sybert Tendesai Mawoyo

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