Living in the Hills around Mazoe, Zimbabwe, were various sub-chiefs including Wata and Chidamba. In the Chidamba Village lived the famous Shona spirit medium Mbuya Nehanda. She must have had great authority even before the 1896-7 Rebellion and it is interesting that no greater authority than the Anglican Church in a map drawn up showing missionary work by the 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.
Mbuya Nehanda According to historical sources the original Nehanda was 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, Mutota also had a son who later became the second Monomatapa, and the son was called Matope. Matope was Nehanda’s half brother, and to increase the power of Matope, Mutota ordered his son to commit incest with his half sister, Nyamhika, who became widely know as Nehanda. This incest ritual is believed to have increased Matope’s ruler and his empire, 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 military drive to rid of the British settlers. The collective efforts of the locals to get rid of the British colonialist in the period of 1896-7 have become known as the First Chimurenga a.k.a the Rebellion. 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 leading role there being Mukwati, in October 1896 Kaguvi and Nehanda from Mashonaland joined in; these were the three critical people behind the rebellion.
Kaguvi (a.k.a Kagubi) was believed to be the spirit husband of the other great Shona spirit, 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 God a.k.a 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 of arrest 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—Kagubi 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, “My bones will rise again,” meaning they will rise again to fight the settlers. 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.
1. A.S. Chigwedere, From Mutapa to Rhodes .
2.Peter Gibbs, The History of the BSAP.
3.W. Edwards, Reminiscences in NADA.
4.P.S. Garlake, The Mashona Rebellion east of Salisbury , Rhodesiana No. 14, July 1966. A.
5.S. Hickman, Balleyhooley Hotel, Rhodesiana No. 17, December 1972.
6.D.N. Beach , Kaguvi and Fort Mhondoro , Rhodesiana No. 27, December 1972.
7.General History of Africa, Vol. VII: Africa under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935, UNESCO. University of California Press, 1990.
8.Great Zimbabwe : described and explained, Peter Garlake, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1982.
9.Modern Africa : A social and political history (2nd ed.), Basil Davidson, Longman Group, 1989.
10.A political history of Munhumutapa c 1400-1902, S.I.G. Mudenge, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1988.
11.Revolt in Southern Rhodesia , 1896-7: A Study in African Resistance, Terence O. Ranger, Heinemann, 1984.
12.The struggle for Zimbabwe : The Chimurenga War, David Martin & Phyllis Johnson, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1981.
13.Women Leaders in African History, David Sweetman. General Publishing Company, Limited, 1984.