Nehanda
(c. 1863-1898)

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. | Continued
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Books

General History of Africa, Vol. VII: Africa under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935, UNESCO. University of California Press, 1990.
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Great Zimbabwe: described and explained, Peter Garlake, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1982.
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Modern Africa: A social and political history (2nd ed.), Basil Davidson, Longman Group, 1989.
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A political history of Munhumutapa c 1400-1902, S.I.G. Mudenge, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1988.
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Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, 1896-7: A Study in African Resistance, Terence O. Ranger, Heinemann, 1984.
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The struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War, David Martin & Phyllis Johnson, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1981.
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Women Leaders in African History, David Sweetman. General Publishing Company, Limited, 1984.
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Search for 'Nehanda' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
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