The Nyabingi movement, influential in southwestern Uganda from 1850 to 1950, was centred around a woman healer, Muhumusa, who was possessed by the spirit of Nyabingi, a legendary “Amazon Queen.” Muhumusa organized armed resistance against German colonialists and subsequently detained by the British in Kampala, Uganda from 1913 to her death in 1945.
The spirit of Nyabingi possessed mostly women, but also men, who led uprisings against the British in 1916, 1919 and 1928 among the Kiga in Kigezi, along Uganda‘s borders with Congo and Ruanda.
British occupation involved imposing foreign African Ganda intermediaries on the egalitarian, patrilocal Kiga agriculturalists. The Ganda’s exactions of land, labour, food and money for poll tax galvanized the Nyabingi movement to rebel both against European and Ganda men and win major concessions.
Nyabingi was a woman-led movement against oppression of all the community but specifically of women who did the farming and food preparation and hence were directly affected by colonial demands.
British efforts to crush Nyabingi involved criminalizing it as witchcraft through the Witchcraft Ordinance of 1912, promoting Christianity and encouraging other indigenous anti- Nyabingi cults.
In labelling Nyabingi ‘witchcraft’ the British were resuscitating the witch burnings of 1500-1650 that were central in the move from pre-capitalist to capitalist relations in Europe. In this move, the power of women, especially over reproductive sciences, had to be crushed .
Christianity produced Kiga men who replaced Ganda Agents as British intermediaries by the 1930s and who enforced colonial exactions from Kiga women and men. A capitalist male deal was struck between Christianized Kiga men and British colonialists for their mutual aggrandizement. This rise of the male deal was effective in forcing the woman-centred Nyabingi movement underground and depriving Kiga and other African peoples of their autonomy and wealth.
With the emergence of colonial class relations, women suffered disempowerment to a much greater degree than men. Land loss reduced women’s food self-sufficiency
and trading capacities while the anti witchcraft campaign delegitimized Nyabingi women’s work as healers and seers.
Ironically, out of the colonial schools and churches rose male African nationalists who through a campaign against racism, challenged not the system of capitalist exploitation but the European men’s exclusive privileges within it.
In the Kigezi area of Uganda, church schools produced the ‘Twice Born,” who like Nyabingi were proscribed as seditious by the British and led two revolts in the 1940s.
Ultimately the nationalist men formalized a class arrangement with the departing British which included a capitalist male deal giving land ownership to men, not women and which centralized political power in the hands of men.
Nyabingi remained powerful in Kigezi, Uganda throughout the 1930s, where resistance involved arson. In Jamaica in 1937 it was reported that the Nyabingi spirit moved on to Ethiopia and possessed Haile Selassi who fought Mussolini’s fascist invasion.
Found in –
Women, Rastafari and the New Society: Caribbean and East African roots of a popular movement against structural adjustment
By Terisa E. Turner
Labour, Capital and Society / Travail, capital et société, Vol. 24, No. 1 (April / avril 1991)
Image by Cadex @cadex_h @cadexherrera