Between 1840 and 1863 in Mashonaland which is present day northern Zimbabwe, was born a woman who would help change the course of history in Zimbabwe. At the time of her birth Charwe Nyakasikana was considered to be a medium between the spirit and physical realms. Nyaksikana was the daughter of Nyatsimba Mutota the first ruler of the state of Monomotapa, and was given the title of Nehanda at her birth. The spirit of Nehanda is regarded as an ancestral spirit within the cultures of Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is said that Mutota had a son Matope who was the half-brother of Nehanda Nyakasikana and his successor. Mutota wanted his son to become very powerful so he ordered his son to commit royal incest with Nehanda Nyakasikana; she was considered the physical embodiment of the Nehanda. There are 500 years of stories of the Nehanda spirit being found in various mediums throughout Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In the early 1890’s European settlers began to encroach upon the areas of Mashonaland, during this time Nehanda Nyakasikana was optimistic about the character of the Europeans, she was unaware of their true intentions. She promoted building relationships with the Europeans, ordered her people to not fear them and offer them nourishment. In return for the kindness of the Shona-speaking people the Europeans enforced a “Hut Tax”, labor camps and forced the people off of their lands. In 1896 the Ndebele and Shona led a revolt which became the First Chimurenga (war of liberation) initiated by a spirit medium named Mukwati who was considered the spirit husband of Nehanda; Mukwati was later joined by Nehanda and Kaguvi a third spirit medium. These three figures were seen as essential to the rebellion, Nehanda and Kaguvi used their voices to rally the people against the whites.
In 1897 Nehanda Nyakasikana was captured by the Europeans after escaping their grasp for a year. In 1898 she was put on trial for the “murder” of Native Commissioner Pollard. According to a witness Pollrd was captured, brought to Nehanda, then he was ordered by her to be killed after she had a brief conversation with him. Nehanda and Kaguvi were sentenced to death by hanging for their roles in the killing of those who supported white supremacy. Stories suggest that during the hanging of Nehanda she used her powers to delay her hanging, they had to hang her three times before she died. Once her tobacco pouch was removed she succumbed to the hanging. Before she took her last breath she uttered the words, “My bones will rise again,” indicating that their fight will continue and the Nehanda spirit will never die. Before she was hung the European Catholic Priest tried relentlessly to convert Nehanda Nyakasikana to Catholicism but she held true to her culture and traditions, even in the face of death. She used her powers to help her people and protect her people. Once she learned the true intentions of the Europeans her attention turned to ensuring the freedom of her people at all cost. Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, we proudly stand on your shoulders.