Karanga shamanism [Zimbabwe (= Southern Rhodesia)]

pp. 155-169 female nanga (shamaness)




"njuzu-dreams" : "she finds herself in the depths of a pool, i.e. there is water all around her and only the place where she sits remains dry. Near her, under the water, there are many most beautiful girls, dressed and adorned with black glass-beads. ... the girls pour a little water in her mouth ... . The water in [her] mouth means, according to her, that she must never forget what she has been taught in the pool."


"when [she] had accepted the pool-spirits, her dreams changed. She is no longer in a pool, but near one. In its depths, there is a cave. Above this cave, the water becomes rough, making wave ...; and then the girls appear. ...


In her dreams, the girls show her medicines and where to find them. Thus, in one of these dreams she is possessed by a njuzu-spirit, and in that state sees herself walking to the river and there ... look for these medicines."


"she sees in a dream a woman in labour whose child is in a transverse lie. ... How to turn the baby, however, is shown to her by another spirit (Maizoda) in the same dream".


"The spirits can now possess her and work together with her."


"she had a dream in which she was shown how to make certain necklaces, and she wears those ever since as insignia of the njuzu-spirits".


"As a medium (svikiro), she is now possessed by ... spirits ... when they have something important to communicate (e.g. warning of danger)."


"The country of origin of these [alien] spirits is said to be Mozambique ... . Shave spirits are always strangers."


"The first spirit was accepted ... in an official shave-ceremony. ... Its name is Chinemharadza, and is a male alien spirit. Chinemharadza means : he who destroys, or : he who separates. It is he who helps chase off evil spirits, especially "wild children" of the witch (zvidhoma ...). ... When his male spirit possessed her ..., he ... told ... that he wanted red glass-beads ... . Therefore, [the shamaness] now wears them as a necklace. Apart from the beads, Chinemharadza wanted coloured clothed decorated with lions, and a walking-stick (tsvimbo). These clothes and utensils [the shamaness] wears when she is possessed by Chinemharadza, or wants to be possessed by him at ... healing ceremonies."


"During the following ceremony [the shamaness] was possessed by another shave-spirit. It was a lady named Maizoda. The name means : "What you have wished". ... She is rather short, with a long face and dark complexion, and dressed like a Shangan woman (neighboring tribe in Mozambique). These details [the shamaness] knows from her dream. Also, Maizoda told her at the first possession what clothes she wanted : "I want white and red glass-beads, a headband (rundanyara), ... a loin-cord (mukanda)". This is now [the shamaness’s] ceremonial dress when she is possessed by Maizoda. ... Maizoda helps her especially with curing sterility".


"Another spirit, Maindida ("you loved me") is the last one ... the spirit of a dried up, very old woman who occasionally possesses [the shamaness]".


"The most important and most powerful" spirits possessing her, however, are the pool-spirits "(njuzu) which [the shamaness] also took over from her aunt : two extraordinarily bneautiful girls who possess her alternately. These njuzu-girls ... are in the first stage of puberty (bunha ...) and so are virgins. This is one of the reasons, [the shamaness] says, why sexual intercourse is forbidden to her. ...


When [the shamaness] is possessed by njuzu she wears a cloth covered black glass-beads, with a few white one here and there (the girls beneath the water wear the same ornaments). ... the black ones refer to njuzu (black symbolizes the significance of the water), the white ones refer to the other alien spirits."


"[The shamaness] is possessed by only one spirit at the time. Since she knows hardly anything of her possessed state she always has with her a woman (acolyte) who makes the important connection between her and the spirit. ...


The spirits are addressed by the acolyte, and while she speaks to them possession occurs : one of the four spirits steps forward, as the Karanga say."


"From the beginning, the njuzu-spirits forbade [the shamaness] any sexual contact – in contrast, she thinks Maizoda and Maindida would certainly permit her to remarry. This prohibition was imposed upon [her] at the official ceremony of accepting the njuzu ... . ... however, ... [the shamaness] was already being possessed by njuzu in her husband’s lifetime, and they forbade her sexual intercourse even then. This led to her occasionally refusing her husband ... . ...

Another rule of sexual abstinence is imposed by Chinemharadza, the male alien spirit. This spirit forbids [the shamaness] any further marriage, and she says he becomes jealous even when a strange man merely touches her. ...


If a man tries to have sexual intercourse with her, or even approaches her with that intention, [the shamaness] is immediately possessed by Chinemharadza, and she fights the man off. Afterwards, [she] says, she is always ashamed of resisting – but she cannot so anything about it."

"With Chinemharadza, [she] says, it is mainly his jealousy which imposes chastity upon her. ...


[Once, she took] her ordinary dress one day and then – without thinking – put it with the special costumes of the shave-spirits. During the following night, all four spirits appeared together, and Chinemharadza especially shouted at her ruriously, asking her what made her mix her ordinary clothing with their (the spirits’) things. [She] awoke ... with a headache. She removed the dress at once and was then able to sleep on. ... This dress had, through a recent intimate relationship, been in contact with" ["semen of the man" (p. 163)]. {cf. U.S. Praesident Clinton & Monica Lewinsky}


"what she had dreamt : "I was at home, and there were many empty jars. Chinemharadza appeared and said to me : ‘All these jars should be filled with beer.’ He then disappeared again." [She] interpreted the dream as follows : "I must brew beer for all my alien spirits. When it is ready I shall be possessed first bt Chinemharadza, and he will say what he wants. ...


Then Chinemharadza will make the melodies in me, and let them be sung through me. ...""

pp. 170-172 male nanga (shaman)




1st key-dream : "I am standing on a small island, beneath a mupfuti-tree. The island is in the middle of a large pool. In the distance I hear someone throw the hakata (dice) ... . Suddenly two women walk across the water, towards me, as if on firm ground. They take me by the hand and lead me to the shore. I then wake up."


"A n’anga had once told him that there were three alien spirits who wanted to possess him. ... One day – after he had had the above dream – he ... in Sinoia (now Chinhoyi) ... became ... for a long time completely mad. Only when he decided to ... accept the spirits did he quickly recover."


2nd key-dream : "I am standing on top of a mountain and look across the whole Ndanga-area ... ([his] home). I then build a nest. I am holding a whip of rhino-hide (sjambock) in my hand. I climb into the nest and hit it with my whip : it rises into the air and flies off with me. ... I am dressed like a great n’anga. I then wake up."


"After this dream [the prospective shaman] finally gave in and decided to accept the alien spirits. But first he went to Mozambique. One day he came to a large pool in which he saw real njuzu-creatures. They had a human head and a fish body. There were crocodiles with them. One of the njuzu-creatures re recognized at once for it looked like one of the women who had helped him cross the water of the pool.


[He] stayed in Mozambique and became apprentice to a n’anga."


"[He] explains the first dream as follows : "The pool in the dream is the ... pool I later find in Mozambique and where the njuzu live. ... The two women are the souls (mweya) of the shave-spirits".


[His explanation of the 2nd dream :] "beat the nest and it starts to fly. This means that these spirits come to visit me in my dream. They then take my soul on a journey, and we fly


about everywhere ... . ... Flying around with the shave-spirits ... means that in the future they will show me, in a dream, those places where I will find medicine. This now happens regularly."

pp. 173-182 redincarnated male nanga of the Va-Ndau tribe




"something incredible happened" : "there was a great whirlwind. It came towards [the thusly-initiated shaman], seized him and took him away. ... The whirlwind carried [him] to a deep pool in Mtilikwe river. ... For two months [he] lived in the depths of the pool, together with a snake and a crocodile. ... His living quarters consisted of a cave whose entrance was deep down in the water. This cave went all the way up so that its topmost part


was above the water-level. There, a small opening let fresh air into the cave. The cave ... was huge. ... [He] spent his time sitting cross-legged between the snake on his right and the crocodile on his left. Both "animals" are njuzu ... . The snake showed him medicines (plants) which he would later use as n’anga. On its head it had red hair, and it had big, radiant eyes ... . This snake was able to suddenly stretch a long way (up to a mile ...) and then shrink again into a small snake. Another time it rolled itself up and was then as tall as a man standing up. The male crocodile on his left (the snake ... sat on his right) ... was a rarely seen njuzu-crocodile. What was remarkable about the crocodile was that there were plants growing all along its back {cf. legend : Muzvidziwa’s "guardian was a large snake ninga (... njuzu), and ... reeds ... grew on its back" (p. 148).}. ... First, the reed which indicates that the creature is njuzu {"The reed ... gives ... the power of the water. ... This power of the water is transferred to the animals through the reed." (p. 145)}. In addition to the reed, ... stalks bearing flowers grew upwards. These flowers are also used for healing. ... But the animals could talk to [him] only in his dreams. ... In the dream, mainly the snake appeared, speaking to [him] in a human voice. It explained to [him] the plants and their use in healing. Even today, after his return, [he] regularly dream of the snake. It always reveals important healing herbs to him."


"a n’anga in Mozambique who was famous for freeing people caught by njuzu ... stuck something which looked like a small umbrella into the ground at various points. Next to the "umbrella" he placed medicines and in several places he made fires. When everything was ready the n’anga and his assistants began to beat the drums. They danced all night through ... . Early in the morning it happened : [the njuzu-initiated shaman] returned from the pool. He rode on the crocodile’s back with the snake coiled around his body, its head on his. ... Before leaving the pool ... on that morning the snake had even vomitted two eggs for him (with them, [he] can remove evil from patients’ bodies). ...

After his return, nobody present was allowed to touch [the new njuzu-initiated shaman] – or he would have been pulled back into the pool immediately. Only the n’anga, carrying special medicines which bound [the new shaman], was permitted


to approach him ... By the river, the specialist sprinkled the surface of the water with an ox-tail dipped in the medicines. ... Suddenly, the water became choppy, ... and then the crocodile and the snake appeared on a sandbank. ... The specialist stayed another two months with [the new shaman] ... . During that time the n’anga from Mozambique was [the new shaman’s] teacher .. . Since his return, [the new shaman] ... uses a special medicine given to him by the n’anga from Mozambique. With that, he can call the crocodile. As soon as it appears, [he] quickly takes some plants from its back (like picking vegetables ...)". {continuation of legend : "I had to collect the various plants (gomarara) which grew there. Once I cut a plant off the snake back ... . The snake also gave me the horn with which I shall cure people." (p. 148) – "Gomarara are epiphytes" (p. 150). [But if they are epiphytes, then might not the "snake" be a host-plant?]}


[inherited alien spirits which serve (possess) this shaman :] "First, there is Dumuzulu. ... his soul went into the pool and possessed the crocodile ... . ... When [this shaman] appeared in the pool, Dumuzulu could also return into a human being, and now he lives in the clothing and insignia {entrusted to the author, p. 180} dedicated to him, except when he is making [this shaman] possessed. Dumuzulu helps him drive away evil spirits and wild children of the witch (zvidhoma ...). ... The medicines from the back of the crocodile serve mainly to expel vengeful spirits (ngozi).

Another of [his inherited] alien spirits is Sedar. ... Sedar warns him when a patient is about to visit him, tells him what the trouble is and which medicines will cure it. ... Sedar also advises him with the dice-oracle."


[This same shaman] also claimed to become possessed by "his real sister. She ... worked as a prostitute in the Transvaal area when she was murdered by bandits. – When [this shaman] is possessed by her he screams like a woman who is being killed."


"[This shaman] explained that all he knows of the alien spirits he learns in the state of possession, when he informs his acolytes. As he never knows what has been said during possession he is told about it ... . About possession, [this shaman] declares that sometimes he is possessed by one spirit – never two at the same time – all day long."

pp. 183-184 candidature for chieftainship




"In the north-east of Zimbabwe there lives a Shona-tribe called Korekore {cf. the [Maori] lunar-night KOREKORE}. Its totem is nzou (elephant) (Chidawo : Samanyanga). -- Before the candidates for chieftainship (always a man and his sister) were finally appointed, ... the pair was taken to the Chitsunge mountain where there were ... lions and leopards. ... However, if they survived the night, the nephews took them the pool of ... a crocodile ...; ... both were thrown in ... . ...


If the pair passed these tests, it was ... the pregnancy of Mhondoro (nhumbu yemhondoro) ... tribal medium – it always had to be a virgin --- ... being possessed by the principal ancestral spirit of the tribe (Mhondoro)."

pp. 186-189 njuzu & vari pasi




"Occasionally, the njuzu appears as a beautiful, naked woman. ... If she addresses him he is pulled into the water. This can happen to anyone who ... has failed to make a sacrifice demanded from him in a dream."


"One finds springs in the mountains, and there one can sometimes hear the "vari pasi" call, sing and dance. Also the noises their animals make can be heard."


"Then a njuzu-snake wants to leave its habitat it rolls itself up and propels itself off the ground. It flies over the land, making a loud wind."

p. 218 volcanoes

"This fire erupts like a spring from inside the mountain. ... They bury their famous ancestors on such mountains {the corpse of Yho^s^u<a was buried "on the north [slope] of the mountain of Ga<as^." (Yho^s^u<a 24:30) /ga<as^/ is ‘to erupt’; ‘volcano’ is /ga<as^/ (Meridian Hebrew-English English/Hebrew Dictionary)} and ... make place carved totem-animals on these mountains".

pp. 233-238, 250-254 rain-maker priests




"The word manyusa (singular nyusa) for rain-priests (also called rain-makers) is derived from kunisa, to make rain."


"A rain-priest is allowed one wife only".

[how to become a nyusa :-] "one day a spirit of God (mweya waMwari ...) appears to him or her in a dream and commands : "Go to the stone of the pool in order to receive a jukwa-shave (jukwa alien spirit ...)." The chosen one, with the blessing of chief and medium, will then make a pilgrimage to the Matopos. There, he hears a voice from the cave : "You have come to become a nyusa. We have called you in a dream. Do you want to become a zame-nyusa?" ... If he accepts the appointment he will, at the subsequent dance and festival with the priests of the shrine, experience his first official possession by the jukwa-shave."


"the regalia of a nyusa. His loin-cloth is ornamented with a zig-zag pattern of white and red and dark-blue glass-beads. This pattern we know from the puff-adder. The white beads symbolize ... small white clouds, the red ones the lightning, and the dark ones the rain-clouds. ... The tones of the spiral horn of the Kudu, which the nyusa plays, symbolize thunder, its form lightning."

"Jukwa ... emerge suddenly."


"Now the rain-priest’s (nyusa) ... suddenly possessed by his jukwa alien spirit, and in that state ... he is carrying a puff-adder, playing with it, and dancing. The snake then begins to coil itself around his arm, and the dancing rain-priest points with that arm it the direction of the imminent rain. Dancing he approaches the muchakata-tree and then climbs it, together with the snake. At the top of the tree he lets the puff-adder go."


Emphasized is "the long-tailed monkey’s skin worn by the nyusa. This monkey ... is God’s "totem"." ["God, green monkey"]

SHONA HERITAGE SERIES, 5 = Herbert Aschwanden (transl. by Ursula Cooper) : Karanga Mythology. 1989.