What is called possessed in Urdu itself


Vimbuza With the Tumbuka, an ethnic group in the north of Malawi and in the east of Zambia, denotes possessive spirits, the illness they cause and dances with drums to heal those affected. Vimbuza is mostly obsessed with women. The therapeutic ceremonies, which in addition to the dances also consist of an animal sacrifice, are based on ideas from Tumbuka mythology, but they are also practiced by Christianized Tumbuka.

Cultural environment

Two thirds of the Tumbuka speakers, who number between one and two million, live in Malawi, where they are separated from the Chewa further south, and one third in Zambia. There they form, together with the Chewa, a minority of the population on the eastern border. Tumbuka are Bantu speakers and immigrated to their current settlement area in the 16th or 17th centuries. The cosmogonic models of their traditional religion and their belief in spirits have developed in exchange with the neighboring ethnic groups and have changed under the influence of Christian missionaries since the end of the 19th century.

Ideas of obsessional spirits attacking predominantly women are widespread in Africa, and some of them have survived under the umbrella of Christianity. The cult of possession is becoming established in parts of Zambia and Zimbabwe Mashawe Practiced by the Christianized population, in Tanzania there is the Pepo-Cult (also Shetani). The spirits reached the Arab north of Africa with black African slaves and found supporters among the lower strata of Muslim societies. Women in Morocco can be found in the DerdebaCeremony together, its counterpart in Tunisia StambaliRite is. The “black” spirits of the Tuareg, those with, are still comparable TendéMusic is encountered, the spirits of Bori-Cults among the Hausa and the TsarCult in Egypt and Sudan. An exception is the Moroccan spirit being Aisha Qandisha, which almost only affects men from the lowest social class.

Common indicators observed to confirm the operation of a possessive mind are speaking in tongues in connection with symptoms of illness such as apathy, body aches and pains, signs of depression, and disregard for basic cultural norms. In the case of the Tumbuka, this can mean that the woman eats food that is taboo, instead of spending the night in the bush at home, walking around naked or neglecting the usual housework. The aim of therapy is not to drive the mind out, but to soothe it so that the patient can get along with his mind. Possessive spirits are not inherently harmful, their presence can also protect against other spirits or against witchcraft.


The region was sparsely populated until the middle of the 19th century. The Tumbuka lived in isolated homesteads west of northern Lake Malawi, several of which formed small chiefdoms. Their staple food was finger millet, a demanding grain that needed a lot of nutrients. The planting was only possible in shifting cultivation, after a cultivation period of three to five years the soils required a fallow period of 20 to 25 years.

There were religious shrines in central places where a possessive nature spirit or a low deity was named ciwanda (Pl. viwanda) was venerated. If men or women were attacked by this spirit, they served him from then on at his shrine. The possessed could fall into a trance and communicate with the spirit, in economic emergencies they received messages on how people could restore the lost harmony with nature. Regardless of their gender, they were called "the women of the spirit".

In the 1850s, the Nguni invaded the southern part of the settlement area from the south and made the common Tumbuka population, who had not fled, their subjects. There were drastic changes in the economic and cultural areas. The Nguni suppressed the religious practices of the Tumbuka, which largely made the shrines disappear. At the end of the 1870s, the population had become too large for the previous cultivation methods. The farmers began to burn forests to fertilize the fields with the ashes. As a result of deforestation, rivers dried up and all agricultural production declined. There were several hunger riots by the Tumbuka against their social oppression and increased religious activities to counteract the loss of their own culture. The Tumbuka and other lower classes, dependent on the Nguni, created an increasingly stronger spiritual counterworld for themselves with increasing impoverishment. The Nguni rulers were increasingly confronted with allegations of witchcraft. Generally, an inexplicable calamity is attributed to the magical action of malicious enemies. It made sense to use the old defense methods (mwavi) to resort to the Tumbuka to track down the witches and dissuade them from their activities. Instead of the earlier, destroyed spirit shrines of the organized Tumbuka cult, new shrines were created everywhere, at which previously unknown spirits were worshiped, which the Nguni had probably brought with them. Among them were possessive spirits who, regardless of their cultural origin, made their way into the lower classes.

In the 1880s, the Christian (Livingstonia) missionaries' new conceptions of the afterlife gained influence, especially among the Tumbuka and the Tonga, which were also suppressed. The economic and social changes that followed explain how gradually the ghosts, which had hitherto affected men and women alike, gradually became a predominantly female problem. In the late 1880s, a major African rinderpest wiped out almost all cattle, which, along with crop failures, led to famine. In 1891 colonial rule began with the establishment of the British Central Africa Protectorate, which was born in 1907 in Nyasaland was renamed. The introduction of taxes and the monetary economy forced many men to migrate to neighboring countries. During the First World War, many men were conscripted as porters or plantation workers for up to three years. Further deterioration in the economic situation after the war due to the Spanish flu, inflation and tax increases led to a severe famine in 1923. In that decade, up to 70 percent of men have been absent from their homeland. Women who had not seen their husbands for many years were watching machona (Sg. lichona), "Lost". Agriculture is traditionally the job of women, now they also had to take on heavy men's work such as clearing bushes. While both sexes were equally marginalized among the Tumbuka up to the end of the 19th century, women saw themselves left behind in their situation during the colonial era. The songs sung at the Vimbuza ceremony document the experience of loneliness, jealousy and neglect of women to this day.

The Vimbuza ghosts spread as an almost exclusive phenomenon of women in the early 1920s. The worried Presbyterian missionaries reacted with bans and excluded women from the church who participated in the rituals. They declared the healers to be witches and the dances to be immoral; they were performed for the purpose of adultery. The fact that the British banned the Vimbuza ceremony in 1924 did not solve the problem. Starting from the river valley of the Kasitu in the south, the spirit cult quickly spread to other areas through emigrating families. In addition to the Presbyterians and Catholics, who insisted on discipline and order, Christian sects provided a catchment basin for those who refused to bow to the strict doctrine. The Livingstonia Mission faced competition from Jehovah's Witnesses and Zionist churches. Sects such as those founded in the mid-1920s aimed for rapid membership growth Last Church of God and his Christby allowing polygyny, as was the one founded in 1929 African National Church. There were baptisms without prior Christian instruction and promises of salvation in the hereafter, despite maintaining the previous way of life. This is where the followers of the spirit cults gathered.[1]

Classes of ghosts

The spirits worshiped by the Tumbuka today have developed from various cultural influences. According to their mythological origin, they can be divided into several groups: Vimbuza are declared to be the spirits of fallen warriors who perished at the end of the 19th century and, because they were not properly buried, roam restlessly looking for people. Vilombo are powerful animal spirits of lions, leopards and pythons, which come from the widespread African cosmogony. The animals must be characterized as wild and alien. The most dangerous are those vyanusi, the returned spirits of the Nguni from deceased powerful healers and witch-finders (nchimi) are. The word vyanusi comes from izanusi, "The stinking ones". Another ghost that does not appear in the ceremony is that mzungu (Europeans), presumably because it is difficult to imagine a dancing missionary or a dancing British colonial official. Nor are ancestral spirits (Pl. mizimu) suitable for the ceremony. Ancestors belong to their own, they can talk to people in dreams or visions and give instructions, but they are not trusted to take possession of a person. Structurally, ancestors stand for culture (above) and Vimbuza for nature (below).

Animal sacrifice and dance ceremony

Health is understood as the balance between internal heat and cold. If an obsession is diagnosed, one knows that the patient is too hot. To find out, the woman is looking for a plant expert (mankhwala) that used to be self-obsessed. It can address the mind and perhaps classify it. For treatment, she prescribes a medicine and thus becomes mbuya (spiritual protector) of the patient. If necessary, she organizes the public therapeutic dance ceremony.[2]

For Vimbuza, as for other African possessed spirits, an animal sacrifice should be made (kusawiska) to be offered. Ghosts need fresh blood (chilopa)if this desire is not met, the mind may take the patient's blood. An animal sacrifice is the basic requirement for the healing process. The patient drinks while chilopa-The ritual is the fresh blood oozing out of the throat, thereby calming the mind and at least temporarily alleviating the patient's suffering. Ghosts are often with mphepo ("Wind") circumscribed. The sacrificial animals are usually asphyxiated, and the killing is interpreted as drinking the animal's air. Drinking the warm blood gushing out corresponds to the intake of life essence, so life is not taken in the process, but life is taken in. Contrary to other sacrificial rituals performed by priests, the chilopa the patient himself makes the sacrifice, which means that the Vimbuza spirits receive the life energy directly in the form of animal blood. The first animal sacrifice begins with a chicken, and on repetition increases to a goat or, rarely, a cow. If the symptoms have disappeared after the sacrifice, i.e. the mind has cooled down, the patient does not need any further treatment, he can live with the spirit within himself. Otherwise he will have ancestral dreams that are difficult to cure (mizimu).[3]

Such a sacrifice can take place independently of or at the beginning of the dance ceremony. There are two large drums at this one mphanje (also kamango) and two small drums mphoza (also mphiningu) in action. They play complex polyrhythmic structures with which the mind heats, that is, lures it out (kuwuska) becomes. He should speak and identify. The patient or a group of patients sit close to the drums. By trial and error, the drum players try the rhythms specific to each individual spirit until a spirit feels addressed; recognizable by the fact that the patient falls into a trance. The woman is now dressed in a dress made from strips of goat or monkey skin (madumbo), today mostly cotton (mazamba), plugged in and with little bells (mangwanda, also nyisi) hung on the feet or on the hips. She carries a small ax in her hands (mphompho) and a fly whisk (litchowa), Symbols of the ruling power with which the woman expresses her radically changed social position in this exceptional situation. The woman can behave arrogantly and aggressively and abuse viewers and musicians or threaten them with an ax.[4]

The fluttering strips of the dress are the visible correspondence of the drum beats to which the dancer must move precisely. With the bells on her hips or feet, she reinforces the wild rhythm. When the ghosts get used to the dance moves (kuvara, "Matured"), the dancer begins to stabilize and with her departure the event is over.

Development after independence

With independence in Malawi and Zambia in 1964, the official attitude towards Vimbuza changed. For the first time, the ceremony was no longer disregarded, but instead recognized as an important part of traditional culture in the course of Africanization. With the new attention, however, the therapeutic aspect and the mythological meaning disappeared, a form of entertainment dances developed, purified of their ghost ideas, in which men have also participated since then. At the instigation of the Ministries of Culture of Malawi and Zambia, shows for tourists were created. A male Vimbuza dancer was shown on a 1968 Zambian postage stamp. In this context, Vimbuza is included in the UNESCO program Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in the year 2005.

The events were commercialized. The witch finders (nchimi) compete with each other and act as paid organizers of the dances. In addition, they treat the obsessed patients without public attention in "private clinics" with herbal medicine and Christian prayers. The diseases that arose from the social situation and were previously treated within the framework of the village community have become a private problem for an individual who, like in Western countries, needs psychological counseling. The public dance events are no longer affordable for most women.[5]


  • Steven Friedson: Tumbuka Healing. In: Ruth M. Stone (Ed.): The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 1. Africa. Garland Publishing, New York / London 1998, pp. 271-284
  • Steven Friedson: Dancing prophets: Musical experience in Tumbuka healing. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1996
  • W. Machleidt, K. Peltzer: Healing ceremonies for the treatment of mentally ill people among the Tumbuka in South Africa. Example: The Chilopa ceremony. In: K. Hoffmann, W. Machleidt (Eds.): Psychiatry in a cultural comparison. Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, Berlin 1997, pp. 65–76
  • H. Leroy Vail: Religion, language, and the tribal myth: The Tumbuka and Chewa of Malawi. In: J.M. Schoffeleers (Ed.): Guardians of the land. Essays on Central African territorial cults. Mambo Press, Gwelo 1979, pp. 209-233
  • H. Leroy Vail, Landeg E. White: The Possession of the Dispossesed. Songs as History among Tumbuka Women. In this.: Power and the Praise Poem. Southern African Voices in History. University Press of Virginia, 1991, pp. 231-277, ISBN 978-0813913407

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ H. Leroy Vail, Landeg E. White, pp. 232-239
  2. ↑ H. Leroy Vail, Landeg E. White, p. 231
  3. ↑ Steven Friedson 1998, pp. 277f; Steven Friedson 1996, pp. 90-92
  4. ↑ H. Leroy Vail, Landeg E. White, p. 232; Steven Friedson 1998, pp. 276f
  5. ↑ H. Leroy Vail, Landeg E. White, pp. 263-269
  • African mythology
  • Culture (Zambia)
  • Religion in Malawi
  • Spirit beings
  • Therapeutic procedure in alternative medicine