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"Nyabinghi"

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The word 'Nyabinghi' has a somewhat complicated history. It was originally associated with an uprising against White European colonialism in southwestern Uganda during the mid to late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth.

The movement was mainly led by a number of women, including a charismatic healer called Muhumusa, who was much feared. She was believed to be possessed* by the spirit of a legendary Amazon Queen, Nyabinghi. Muhumusa not only inspired a vast popular following, but also organised military action against the German colonialists. The Nyabinghi movement was subsequently condemned by the British as 'witchcraft', and Muhumusa was captured in 1913, though the uprisings continued, led by other women and occasionally men who had become similarly possessed by Nyabinghi's spirit. The Ugandan movement was eventually subdued as women's powers were crushed by the authorities.

But such brave resistance could not be so easily forgotten. It has lived on in many ways, having much influence on the Rastafarian tradition, in which so-called Nyabinghi chants are very popular and usually form the basis of the annual
Grounation celebrations. In Jamaican parlance, the name Nyabinghi has come to mean 'Death to Black and White oppressors'.


Related Links:
Nyabinghi Chants


*To this day, spirit possession is a commonly occurring phenomenon of many African indigenous cultures. The spirit of a deceased ancestor may possess a man or more usually a woman who acts as mediator. This role often seems to confer a somewhat elevated position of social esteem and significance on its bearer, since it is recognised that she or he has the privilege of contact with the spirit world. This may explain why many mediators are women, who otherwise usually remain subordinate to men. In Zimbabwe, a person possessed by a spirit is termed a N'anga or Svikiro, variously translated as 'traditional healer', 'witch doctor', 'spirit medium', 'diviner' or 'herbalist'.



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