Accepted paper:

Continuities and discontinuities in women's roles in the Mwali and Shumba cults and in the Mangwe District of South-western Zimbabwe, 1887-1980


Barbara Mahamba (University of Zimbabwe)

Paper short abstract:

The paper investigates roles and influences of women in the shumba and Mwali cults of the Mangwe district, Zimbabwe, their resilient resistance to male Christian domination and how missionaries disrupted women's traditional influence while making connections between Christianity and tradition.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on women and religion in the Mangwe district of South-western Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Before the coming of the Roman Catholic Jesuit missionaries in 1887, women played influential roles in African traditional religions as amawozana in the Mwali cult and izishumba in the the Shumba (lion)cult. Efforts by the Jesuits to turn the shumba, and amawozana into Christians ran against resiliencies that were not anticipated, leading to instances of physical confrontation. The paper investigates the women's determination to ensure the survival of their respected traditional spiritual practices. The women's modes of negotiation and resistance to male Christian domination were shaped by the rules that the missionaries, as landowners, imposed at the mission estate, and at the same time, missionary rules were shaped by the response of the women to those rules, proving that the relationship between missionaries and these women was more than just a story of domination and resistance. The paper argues that the women's Mwali and shumba practices did not die because of the harsh reactions of the priests, but through the shumba women's interaction and negotiation with Christianity at their own pace. The paper explores the eventual emergence of positive relationships as illustrated by the emergence of an African congregation of nuns which had its roots in the Mangwe district. While the shumba resilience can be interpreted as indicating the continuity of African women's influence in traditional religions, the emergence of the African nuns' congregation indicates the gradual discontinuity of the shumba influence.

panel Rel09
Continuities or disruptions? The role(s) of women in African religions