Original Research - Special Collection: Zimbabwean Scholars in Dialogue

The Nehanda mythology: Dialectics of gender, history and religion in Zimbabwean literature

Esther Mavengano
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 4 | a9019 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i4.9019 | © 2023 Esther Mavengano | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 May 2023 | Published: 26 December 2023

About the author(s)

Esther Mavengano, Department of English and Media Studies, Faculty of Arts, Great Zimbabwe University, Masvingo, Zimbabwe; and, Research Institute for Theology and Religion, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Von Humboldt Post Doctoral fellow, Department of English, Institute of English and American Studies, Technical University Dresden, Dresden, Germany


Recently, the government of Zimbabwe unveiled a newly constructed statue of the esteemed spirit medium and liberation icon who intrepidly fought against the British imperialism. The distinguished heroine is passionately known as Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana. The lexical item, ‘Mbuya’ in Shona language literally means grandmother. This study examines the ways in which the spectres of religion, historiography, gender and national politics find expression in often contested state narratives of Mbuya Nehanda and in selected Zimbabwean fictional writings. Foucault’s theorisation of socio-political practices and subjectification as sites of power, together with the Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) framework and bell hooks’ feminist thought of ‘talking back’, provide provocative insights about regimes of power that could be more edifying in the interlocking discursive terrain of the African cosmology, frequently disputed archeology of historical memory, socio-political relations, which are noticeable in discourses and gender politics. The study interrogates whether the Nehanda grand narrative is told by politicians as the revolutionary story of all citizens or not. If not, what alternative versions are proffered in selected Yvonne Vera and NoViolet Bulawayo’s literary texts? Arguably, the mythology of Nehanda in the chosen literary texts locates women as agents of revolution thereby generating semantic dissonance in the Zimbabwean context, which is largely considered as land of the Fathers.

Contribution: The study situates the Nehanda narrative within contested terrains of national history, gender and religion in Zimbabwe’s transitional politics and literature. It concludes that in Vera and Bulawayo’s writings, the Nehanda narrative is deployed to interject significations of woman (hood) and nation (hood) which seek to marginalise some sections of the society. The dissonances embedded in the Nehanda narrative produce a dialoguing space that’ talks back’ and rebuts single storytelling.


African cosmos; Critical Discourse Analysis; gender; Foucauldian theorisation; history; Nehanda mythology; nation (hood); power

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