I’m very happy to share the art form of my research on Nyabingi. In January, I started researching the history of the Nyabingi spirit, which originates from Rwanda and Uganda. This interest sprung from the increased conversation on African spirituality across the diaspora. Specifically an interest in Orisha’s and other West African cosmologies has sprouted among black people in America. Orisha’s are gods which originate from the Yoruba people in Nigeria.
This curiosity for African cosmology was also inspired by the history of radical African women like Yaa Asantewaa from Ghana. Since both of these inspirations came from West Africa, I found myself wondering well, what’s in East Africa? What are some traditional spiritualities that people practiced, or spirits people prayed to? Who are some prominent women from the past? There had to be something other than Christianity and Islam in places like Rwanda. In addition, I found it odd that people coined some of these Orisha’s and spirits like Mami Wata as gods or spirits that all Africans did or do believe in. With limited access, knowledge, or conversation on Africa, it’s easy to minimize the vast continent.
With respect to other spirits that Rwandans prayed to, I focused on one spirit from Rwanda and Uganda, called Nyabingi. Nyabingi is a spirit that focuses on fertility and health but is not exclusive to those issues. Typically, this spirit chose specific women and sometimes men to speak through. These people would act as mugirwa’s, also known as mediums. These days, it’s quite taboo to talk about Nyabingi because of Christianity and strategies like the witchcraft ordinance of 1912 that aimed to dismantle them. Today many see it as a demonic spirit. Before christianity, more people saw them as healers. Many mugirwa’s were instrumental in their fight against colonization too. The Rastafari were inspired by Muhumusa, a mugirwa who fought against corrupt systems. In turn, the Rastafari adopted it into their music and spirituality.
This research is a historical account of Nyabingi. However, by the end of it I felt un-finished. I am an undergraduate Anthropology student at DePaul University and therefore the pieces I write are academic and are prone to being stuck in academia as if thats the only world where sharing research is important . This research is nothing if they are not shared. I know that many people I’m connected to in the African diaspora may be interested in knowing about this. Therefore, I created visual art pieces that represent each of the female mediums I cover in my research. I also composed some music that represents each of the medium’s story. Because the art pieces are limited in words, there is only so much you can learn about. Therefore, I have shared the links to the two documents I wrote on this subject. As you explore Nyabingi, with this information I would like Rwandans and Ugandans who are new to this to ask themselves, how does this fit in my identity? Does it fit in my identity? Does this shape/reshape my idea of where I’m coming from or what I’m connected to? These questions are open to individuals who are apart of the black diaspora and overall African continent as well. Even if a history is forgotten, disapproved of, or dying in our conversations, it can still unknowingly live in minor mannerisms we see as normal but could be learned. So thinking about Nyabingi as apart of us is a curious exploration of identity.
Finally, its important to note that this paper is an introduction to the subject. There is more to learn. So I welcome you to do your own research, or if you already know a lot about Nyabingi lets share and engage in conversation. This history is not as easily accessible so Im excited to add more to my own understanding and polish any misconceptions. Each document is filled with sources that I used, which you are welcomed to find and read. Enjoy!
Document links below. (Copy and Paste them)
(It’s important to note that the story of Queen Kitami and her obesity should not be shamed into a body standards issue. Being fat, is beautiful and it is unfortunate that this has to be a reminder. However, the tales speak of her as being bedridden because of her weight, which she was ultimately able to manage with the help of a healer.)