In the fourteenth century, as the state around Great Zimbabwe entered its twilight, some residents began moving northward. It is said that Prince Mutota left Great Zimbabwe with an army and, after a series of conquests on his northward trek, eventually settled down and founded the Mutapa state. Contrary to Shona tradition, he decreed that the son who desired to succeed him should commit incest with his daughter, Nyamhika. The practice of royal incest is said to have begun when his son, Matope, did commit incest with his half-sister, Nyamhika, who became widely known as Nehanda, or the ruler of Handa.
The Shona are monotheists, who venerate their ancestors and believe in spirit possession. The High God of the Shona, known by various names over time, is now usually referred to as Mwari. In the Mutapa state, they elevated ancestor veneration and spirit possession to astounding heights with the establishment of royal mhondoro cults. It is said that Matope announced that his spirit was immortal and upon his death, it would enter a mhondoro, or lion. The mhondoro wandered the forests in the form of a lion until it found a suitable medium. Each mhondoro had its own "spirit province" that may extend over one or more paramountcies, but the mhondoro had to reside within these delineated borders. Matope's sister-wife, Nehanda, who allegedly possessed supernatural powers, also became a guardian spirit.
The incursion by the British led to the destruction of the political, economic and religious order of the peoples of Southern Africa. The imposition of the Hut Tax, forced labor, suppression of religious practices, and land alienation crystallized African resistance. The military campaign to drive out the British, called the Chimurenga or "the war of liberation," was started by the Ndebele in May 1896 and their traditional enemies, the Shona, joined them in October of the same year. The unique element of the Chimurenga was the leading roles played by three mhondoro: Mukwati in Matabeleland: Kagubi in western Mashonaland; and Nehanda, the sole woman, in Central and Northern Mashonaland. The mhondoro struck directly at the core of Shona beliefs and , in so doing, captured the minds of the people by effectively convincing them that Mwari blamed the whites for all their suffering and decreed that the whites should be driven from the land.
Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana was considered to be the female incarnation of the oracle spirit Nyamhika Nehanda. Referred to as Mbuya Nehanda, she is commonly referred to as the grandmother of present day Zimbabwe. |
She exhorted the Shona people to expel the British from the land, encouraging them to intensify the struggle and rallying them on. Using secret messages to communicate with each other, the mhondoro effectively coordinated their efforts. Kagubi was captured in October 1897, but Nehanda eluded the British a while longer until she was eventually captured in December. They 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. Kagubi subsequently converted to Christianity, but Nehanda steadfastly refused, and went to her death in defiance, denouncing the British.
Nehanda's dying words, "My bones will rise again," predicted the Second Chimurenga, which culminated in the independence of present-day Zimbabwe.
Facing the superior technology of the British, the rebellion surprisingly lasted until the end of 1897 despite British acts of horror and brutality. Although the British casualties were numerically less, they represented one-tenth of their population.
The key elements of the mhondoro cults—ancestor veneration and spirit possession—persist among the people of present-day Zimbabwe. During the Second Chimurenga, Ian Smith, then Prime Minister of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in an airborne leaflet drop, invoked the names of royal mhondoro in a desperate effort to dilute popular support for ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army). In 1972, the spirit of Nyamhika Nehanda found a new medium in an elderly woman, who was whisked to safety by ZANLA guerillas. She was consulted on military decisions and her prophecies provided valuable assistance to the revolutionary struggle. She died in 1973.
The indomitable Mbuya Nehanda, revolutionary prophet and leader of the First Chimurenga in 1896, has now been rightfully buried in Zimbabwe's Heroes' Acre. http://5x5media.com/bhp/pages/nehanda.shtml