The Trial of Nehanda
By Major Special Matarirano (RTD)
Published by Billionaire Publishers (2021)
THE TRIAL OF MBUYA NEHANDA is a fictionalised play based on the historic 1896 trial and subsequent execution of Charwe, the medium of Nehanda, on April 27 1898.
In the play, the writer allows Nehanda to respond to the allegation which is different from the original historical transcript.
According to colonial records, she did not respond to the questioning and in her prison cell she is said to have made sounds; ‘wails and grunts’.
It is quite interesting because it is very possible that the ‘grunts’ could have been the sounds that mediums often make when they are in a trance but when the white writer recorded it, it was interpreted differently.
When history is recorded by the enemy, everything is interpreted as a weakness.
Soon after her execution the Rhodesian poets quickly penned: “Their Lord is fallen – her power is done, Her rule has set – – as the setting sun, But never to rise again …go look at her in her cell …stripped of her rank as well.”
One writer once penned: “Gods die on the battlefield,’ and the Nehanda story contests that view.
It tells the world that gods can, in fact, survive the defeat of their followers on the battlefield.
Their death can only be in the attitude and the literature published by their followers and enemies after defeat.
Matarirano’s work is an example of the attitude and literature that keeps the gods alive.
The lesson to Africans is that it is not victory on the battlefield that kept Abrahamic gods alive.
It is in the memory, pride and relentless effort of the followers who carried them through Egypt, Babylon, Rome and NAZI Germany.
The iconic spit-polished image of the blue-eyed blonde Jesus with a halo over his head is not a historic fact but the artistic media effort of the followers.
Several years ago there was a heated debate on social media about chivanhu and Christianity.
Many people expressed their discomfort and ignorance on the Zimbabwean spiritual beliefs calling it ‘burdensome, useless and mostly satanic’.
This writer joined the debate and attempted to draw comparisons to Nehanda\Charwe and Jesus.
There were a lot of angry responses, many calling the comparison blasphemous and in bad taste.
About 2 000 years ago, Israel was colonised by Rome. There arose a 30-year-old young man from the family of disposed kings who set to challenge the colonial powers.
His name was Jesus and he received considerable support from his people.
He was captured by the colonial powers and executed on a cross as was the custom at that time.
As he was dying, he said he would rise again in three days.
When people went to his gravesite three days later they found no remains and that was the birth of Christianity. Those who believe in the resurrection believe his spirit never died and lives and possesses his believers when invited.
Precisely 131 years ago Zimbabwe was colonised by Britain.
There rose Charwe, a 28-year-old medium of Nehanda Nyakasikana, the daughter of the royal founding father Murenga.
She would be assisted by Gumboreshumba, a medium of Kaguvi.
Together, with the support of their chiefs they challenged the colonial powers and waged a war known in the history books as the Chimurenga.
They were captured and the colonial courts found them guilty and sentenced them to death.
On April 27 1898, Nehanda was hanged, but not before promising that her bones would rise again. Together with the other victims, the medium was hung and the Christian executioners decided that, “without their bodies were (to be) buried in a secret place, so that no natives could take away their bodies and claim that their spirits had descended.”
This is almost 900 years before the first Christians had been accused of stealing the body of Jesus to fake a resurrection.
It is important to first establish Nehanda’s rank in the ancestral family line of Zimbabwe.
The earliest known ancestor of the Shona people was Mambiri.
The patriarch gave birth to Tovera who started the Bantu migration to the south.
Tovera fathered Murenga also known as Pfumojena or Sororenzou.
Murenga fathered Nehanda and her other siblings, the most outstanding of whom were Chaminuka, Runji and Mushawatu.
That makes her the oldest and most known matriarch in the ancestral family line of Zimbabwe.
It’s Murenga’s grandchildren who founded Zimbabwe and, because of that, the grandparent spirit became the godfather of Zimbabwe.
The spirit was called Mwari and his shrine at Njelele in the Matopos became the most sacred space in Zimbabwe. It is from there that the decision to wage an armed struggle against the colonial occupation of Zimbabwe was made and accordingly coined Chimurenga.
At that time the only spirit of Murenga’s children that had a medium was that of Nehanda.
That was how the spirit of Nehanda led the First Chimurenga through the medium Charwe who was 34 years in 1896.
After ‘defeat’ and capture, she was tried and executed on April 27 1898.
Oral tradition holds that she made a death vow that ‘her bones would rise again’.
The colonial authority wrote to the queen telling her it was over and they had captured and killed Nehanda.
The first shots of the Second Chimurenga (of which Nehanda was the rallying point) were fired at the Chinhoyi Battle on April 28 1966, exactly 68 years after the execution of Charwe and the vow that the medium’s bones would rise again.
African Traditional Religion advocates have argued it is not sheer coincidence but the promised resurrection.
The Rhodesians did not miss this significance and Ian Smith immediately rounded up and imprisoned all known mediums.
They knew they were wrong, her spirit had risen again.
Indeed The Trial of Nehanda is literature that keeps the gods alive.