Tonga religious life [Northern Rhodesia]

p. 41, Table I -- officiants















human media of spirits




"Mediums are chosen by basangu spirits, and are themselves addressed as basangu during consultations, since people are addressing the possessing spirit. They may also be called basinsimi (musinsimi, sing.) from kusinsima, "to prophecy {prophesy}" which also carries the meaning of "to awaken". {cf. [Skt.] /buddha/ ‘awakened’} ... A basangu spirit first makes itself known to its chosen vehicle through dreams ... . ...


Established mediums may have an assistant who interprets the messages uttered in trance. This is necessary since the medium usually claims to know nothing of the message once the trance is ended and basangu messages are given in elliptical terms intermixed with foreign words or glossolalia."

"When a medium dies, his or her spirit inheritor inherits only the muzimo, the personal spirit that comes into existence after death. The possessing basangu eventually may manifest itself through another medium."


"Basangu spirits speak through their mediums about matters of communal concern rather than individual matters. ... They may ask for an innovation in ritual, warn of coming disaster, or complain [about] ... behaviour unwarranted by tradition – in the 1940s ... basangu objected to the building of square houses and the sale of crops ... . ... A famous mid-twentieth century medium in the hills of Zimbabwe mandated that henceforth Thursday was to be regarded as a day of rest when no one should work in the fields, and this was observed".





"Mun’ganga (ban’ganga, pl) was the term commonly used ... throughout much of this part of Central Africa. In Gwembe Valley, musonde or musonzi (from kusonda, the verb for divination) was an alternative term.

... in the 1940s ... the term munchape ... usually referred to a non-Tonga diviner who used a mirror or some reflecting surface for divination."


"Starting about 1980, some mediums of other ... possessing spirits, such as bungelengele or siamwiala, ... differed from the ban’ganga ... in that they worked with the help of alien spirits, while the mun’ganga ... was summoned to begin his or her work by a muzimo, the spirit of an ancestor. This was usually through a dream ... . Their tools of trade also differ, for the common divination devices of the ... mun’ganga were a set of divining bones (nkata) ... or various types of medicine horns (nzengo) ... .While ... bungelengele, and siawiala might use some of these same devices ..., they also ... dangled a weighted device..., and/or they insert cowrie shells in their ears to facilitate reception of spirit messages."





"Dreams of all kinds are studied for their meaning, because dreams apprise one of what is happening or has recently happened elsewhere or what may happen in the near future."


"Hunters obtained power to find and kill animals either from mizimo who revealed ... hunting magic in dreams or by purchase from other hunters."

p. 48, Table II -- manifestations of spirit

type of spirit






spirit-protector of kin


ghost of dead

celo / zilube

ghost of unhappy dead


invading sickness-spirit


{with /IBBANDwa/ cf. [<arabi^] />IBAD./- (of Oman)}

{with /MaSaBe/ cf. [Jap.] /MuSubi/}

categories of spirits




"creator as Leza, a term ... [which] derives from a verb meaning "to nourish" {cf. [Skt. god] ‘Nourisher’} ..., events which are considered inexplicable were and are referred to Leza." {cf. [Yoruba god] Ifa}


"the singular form, musangu, and the polite plural, basangu ... appears to be derived from the verb kusanguna, "to begin", "to initiate"."


"Mondolo is derived from the Shona mondhoro, translated ... as "tribal spirits"."


"a given medium ... may be entered by a number of basangu, some of which may appear only once or twice as when a medium announces the arrival of a visiting basangu who has a special message for the people."


"Mizimo (muzimo, sing.) ... is "spirit of a dead person" or "ancestral spirit". Tonga associate the term with ku-zima which may be translated as ... "to be extinguished", for it is used of a fire that goes out." {cf. [Skt.] /nirvana/ ‘extinguishment (scil., of fire)’} ... In their benevolent aspect, which means that a recognized kinship relationship exists with the living, they are mizimo.

... when no such relationship is assumed, ... it is ... celo (zelo, pl.) ... or zilube. The latter is from the verb ku-luba, "to forget" ... . ... Celo was the common term on the Plateau and in the hills, zilube on the Zambezi Plains, and cizimo was a less common


usage ... . Ibbandwa when used implies that the ghost is particularly malevolent. It is sometimes said to originate in someone who was killed without cause, ... and therefore seeks revenge upon the living, but in practice the term also may be used when illness is attributed to a dead spouse angered because the widow or widower was not properly cleansed of its death. ... I was told that mizimo did not possess people but that zelo did, and when this happened they were to be expelled through the use of fumigation".


"Masabe refers to an invading power or force that makes its victim ill until it is mollified by the performance of a dance drama in which the victim acts out the wishes of the invading spirit and comes to terms with it and it thereby cured. The term is obviously cognate with the Shona mashave".


"The basangu medium may initially be made ill, but this illness is to force him of her to accept the role of a medium. Possession by zelo ... also causes illness but zelo want only to injure the victim and must be expelled through fumigation ... .

Masabe have desires which are made manifest through their victims and are pacified through a dance performance in which the victim enacts these desires. Each kind of masabe has its own appropriate rhythms, songs, dances, and medicines. The dance drama that treats the one possessed allows the spirit to indicate its nature and obtain what it desires ... . The performance brings together all possessed by that particular form of masabe to support the new victim as she (and more rarely he) expresses the nature of the possessing force, which may be a ... cannibal, or a species of animal." ["Masabe performances require drummers, dancers, and a chorus to sing and clap" (p. 136).]


"baleza in ... the findings of a divination ...

the mizimo want beer. [p. 129 pouring of beer to the mizimo] ...

... the basangu of rain ... .

Zilube are the spirits of any dead and they may come and enter you. Then you become ill and when you are treated with fumigation, the zilube come out and you shout out their names. ... While people are fumigating you, they also beat on iron to make noise to drive out the zilube."

shrines for spirits




"The shrine usually took the form of a spear rest (called lwaanga or loombuwa) placed beside the house of the owner’s ... wife. It consists of a shoot of muntiokela (Commiphora sp.), a tree whose shoots reroot themselves."


"It was in front of the doorway that burial ... took place ... . ... The doorway of the house is also the common place of offerings to the dead as mizimo ... . Because mizimo are thought to hover about the doorway, sitting or lingering there is forbidden as it blacks their free movement."


"Spirits are asked to attend, and hear what the what the living need of them."


"The Plateau wife poured her offerings either at the center post of the house or at the bedposts while the doorposts were reserved for offerings poured by the husband. ... The right post received offerings to the spirits of his father’s line, the left post those to spirits of his own lineage."


"some kinds of hunting shrines ... could only be activate through incest ... . Gwembe Central informants said that on the day when such a shrine was first built, the hunter entered the house of his mother or sister and had [sexual] intercourse with her. [According to] Gwembe South Tonga in Zimbabwe ... the night before going on a hunt, a man should place his spear in front of his sister’s house, enter and sleep with her."

p. 84 color-symbolism

"Black (busia) is explicitly associate with the desired rain-clouds ... . {cf. black color of [Aztec rain-god] Tlaloc} ... Basangu mediums, consulted during droughts, may ask for black cloth and also receive wristlets of black or dark blue beads (bulungu busia)."

"White (butuba) ... was associated with sorrow ... . Mourners daubed themselves with white clay ... during the early stages of a funeral".

"The various connotations for red (busubila) include lightning and fire ... . The red feathers of the induba (a lourie) were worn by the man who had killed a lion".

ghosts of the dead




"Immediately after burial it [muzimo] stays close to the grave site ... dug in the dooryard. ... During this stage it is referred to as a zibandwa (from kabandwa, grave) ... . Until the final ritual which provides it with an inheritor and a new household placement, it is most vulnerable ..., in that it may be captured by a witch who will then use it as a ghost (celo) helper. ... other mizimo, even of its own lineage, will not welcome its presence until it has been purified from death : They will tell it to stay away because it stinks of death".


[instance of assault of widower by ghost of his dead wife, when he entered the sealed hut wherein she had died and her ghost was staying prior to her funeral] "his backbone felt as if it was broken. His body was as though it had been shocked by electricity and he was filled with cold."


"A few elders are said to give instructions to have a medicine placed in the grave, together with a hollow reed inserted to lead from the ear of the corpse to the surface of the ground. As the body decays, a grub should emerge through the reed and be metamorphosed into a snake or lion."


"musampizya (Epaltes alata (Sond.) ...) ... plant has a pungent odour, and is used as a fumigant against ghosts or to drive away mosquitoes."

p. 216, Table IV – witchcraft techniques







familiars created with medicines


snake with human head


p. 218 buyowela are "the invisible small birds kept by witches."

Elizabeth Colson : Tonga Religious Life in the Twentieth Century. Bookworld Publ, Lusaka (Zambia), 2006.