Mbuya Nehanda

Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana was the spirit medium that was the inspiration behind the 1896-97 first Chimurenga war. She was based in the northern plateau of Mashonaland and was influential in resisting colonial encroachment and she used her religious authority to mobilise the masses against the Europeans. She was born around 1863 and she died in 1898 after being executed by the colonial authorities in Salisbury.[1]

Religious Influence

Mbuya Nehanda in the person of Charwe was very central in the religious organisation of all indigenous Shona tribes in the Central, Eastern and Western plateau of Zimbabwe.[2] She was believed to be possessed by super-natural ancestral spirits and thus she was the centre of communication between the living Shona societies and the underworld. As a religious figure, she even had influence in the installation of chiefs and political figures in most Shona speaking societies in the Mashonaland regions.[2]

Political Influence

Due to close links between early political structures and religion, Mbuya Nehanda found her influence in the mainstream politics of her time. She was influential in warning the people against accepting the entry of the Europeans in the Mashonaland region.[3] One of her common political rhetoric was when she warned the locals that Mashonaland was plagued by a drought because of the presence of the Europeans. She thus agitated the people to take up arms against the foreigners. She did so with the belief that she was the link between the people of the Mashonaland and the ancestors.[3]

Arrest and Execution

Mbuya Nehanda in Chains With Her Accomplices

Mbuya Nehanda was hunted down by the colonial regime of the British South Africa Company due to her widespread influence and her denunciation of colonisation. It is alleged that she was arrested and was brought to Salisbury for the judgment. She was convicted without a trial and was executed in 1898 in Salisbury. She was hanged on a tree along and breathed her last.


Before her death, Mbuya Nehanda left behind a political oracle. In a frenzy of grief and torment, Nehanda prophesied that her bones were going to rise again. This prophecy has been interpreted differently by the locals. The bulk of the locals, especially nationalists interpreted it as the rise of nationalist sentiments in Rhodesia from the 1940s as the spirit of Nehanda.[4] It was in fact the basis on which the war of the Second Chimurenga was fought. For this reason among others, the spirit of Mbuya Nehanda has been treated with great sacrality among conservative Zimbabwean traditionalists. There are some claims that in the contemporary society, the spirit of Nehanda is still in control of the religious and spiritual life of the the land of the Shona people, Zimbabwe.[5]

Skull in British Museum

In August 2015, Robert Mugabe lashed out at Britain for displaying the skulls of Zimbabwe's liberation war heroes.[6] It was believed that Mbuya Nehanda's skull was among the remains that were being displayed at the British History Museum.


  1. , About Us, "Nehanda Radio", retrieved:22 Jul 2014"
  2. 2.0 2.1 , Mbuya Nehanda Gandangakadzi Guru reZimbabwe, published:2004,retrieved:22 Jul 2014"
  3. 3.0 3.1 , Nehanda, retrieved:22 Jul 2014"
  4. Dudu Masaiti, Mbuya Nehanda the prophet of Satan, "Bulawayo 24", published:9 Dec 2011,retrieved:22 Jul 2014"
  5. Isdore Guvamombe, Mbuya Nehanda and the liberation tapestry, "The Herald", published:15 Aug 2012,retrieved:22 Jul 2014"
  6. Lloyd Gumbo, Britain to return heroes' skulls, Herald, Published: August 11, 2015, Retrieved: August 17, 2015