Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana (c. 1840–1898) was a svikiro, or spirit medium of the Zezuru Shona people. As one of the spiritual leaders of the Shona, she provided inspiration the revolt against the British South Africa Company's colonisation of Mashonaland and Matebeleland. She was a Hera of the Hwata Mufakose Dynasty. She and her ally Kaguvi were eventually captured and executed by the British.
The spirit Nehanda is said to be the mhondoro, a royal mudzimu (ancestral spirit) or "lion spirit". At one time this spirit resided in Nyamhika, one of the daughters of Nyatsimba Mutota,who was given the name Nehanda at birth. Nyatsimba Mutota was the first leader of the Munhumutapa state.
As medium of the spirit Nehanda, Nyakasikana made oracular pronouncements and performed traditional ceremonies that were thought to ensure rain and good crops. As the spirit medium of Nehanda at the time, Charwe Nyakasikana at first promoted good relations between the Zezuru people and early European settlers pioneers. However, following the imposition of a "hut tax" and other tax assessments in 1894, both the Ndebele and Shona people revolted in June 1896, in what became known as the First Chimurenga or Second Matabele War. The rebellion, in Mashonaland at least, was encouraged by traditional religious leaders including Nyakasikana. After the end of the rebellion in 1897, she was captured. Nyakasikana was charged with the murder of Native Commissioner Pollard. She was found guilty after eyewitnesses claimed that she had ordered an associate to chop Pollard's head off. Consequently, she was hanged. Much mythology grew up around the difficulty in killing her.
Living in the hills around Mazoe, Zimbabwe, were various sub-chiefs including Wata and Chidamba. In the Chidamba Village lived the famous Shona spirit medium Mbuya Nehanda. She must have had great authority even before the 1896-7 Rebellion and it is interesting that no greater authority than the Anglican Church. In a map drawn up showing missionary work by the Church after 1888, there is a village called Nehandas. She was a powerful woman spirit medium that was committed to upholding traditional Shona culture, she was instrumental in organising the nationwide resistance to colonial rule during the First Chimurenga of 1896–7.
Even Lobengula recognised her as a powerful spiritual medium in the land. Mbuya Nehanda According to historical sources the original Nehanda was daughter of Mutota the first Monomatapa who was living in the escarpment North of Sipolilo in about 1430. This is some 70 odd years before Christopher Columbus discovered America and Bartholemew Dias reached the Cape. Mutota was the founder of the Mutapa state, Mutota also had a son who later became the second Monomatapa, and the son was called Matope. Matope was Nehanda’s half brother, and to increase the power of Matope, Mutota ordered his son to commit incest with his half sister, Nyamhika, who became widely known as Nehanda. This incest ritual is believed to have increased Matope’s rule and empire, due to this Matope handed over a portion of his empire to Nehanda who became so powerful and well known that her spirit lived on in the human bodies of various spirit mediums over the years until almost 500 years later when we find it occupying the body of the Mazoe Nehanda. Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana was considered to be the female incarnation of the oracle spirit Nyamhika Nehanda.
As white settlement increased in the land, according to sources Nehanda initially welcomed the occupation by the Pioneers and counselled her followers to be friendly towards them "Don't be afraid of them" she said "as they are only traders, but take a black cow to them and say this is the meat with which we greet you." Unfortunately relationships became strained when the settlers started imposing taxes, forced relocations, forced labour, etc. As colonialism began to get its grip on the natives of Zimbabwe, there was military drive to rid of the British settlers. The collective efforts of the locals to get rid of the British colonialist in the period of 1896–7 have become known as the First Chimurenga a.k.a. the Rebellion. Due to the cultural beliefs of the locals, the leading roles behind the rebellion were by three spirit mediums. The rebellion was initiated in Matebeland in May 1896, the leading role there being Mukwati, in October 1896 Kaguvi and Nehanda from Mashonaland joined in; these were the three critical people behind the rebellion.
Kaguvi (a.k.a. Kagubi) was believed to be the spirit husband of the other great Shona spirit, Nehanda, and it may have been this connection which enabled him in due course to persuade Mbuya Nehanda to preach the gospel of war resistance in Mashonaland, which led to the first Chimurenga. The role as well as the influence of the spirit mediums in form of Kaguvi and Nehanda, can not be understated. As far as the people were concerned Nehanda and Kaguvi were the voices of God a.k.a. Mwari. Kaguvi and later Nehanda (after convincing by Kaguvi) preached that according to Mwari the cause of all the trouble that had come upon the land was the white man. They had brought the locusts and the rinderpest, and to crown it all, they, the owners of the cattle which had died, were not allowed to eat the meat of the carcasses, which had to be burned or buried. Mwari decreed that the white men were to be driven from the country. They, the natives, had nothing to fear, Mwari would turn the bullets of the white man into water. A public press photograph was taken of Nehanda and Kaguvi in 1897 to display their success.
Nehanda’s heroism became a significant source of inspiration in the nationalist struggle for liberation in the 1960s and 1970s. Her name is now usually prefixed by the respectful title of Mbuya, or grandmother. The maternity section of Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare is named after her. The College of Health Sciences of the University of Zimbabwe is located there as well.