Gender and Spirituality in Anti-Colonial Struggles in Uganda: A Case of Nyabingi Movement in Kigezi Region (1900-1945)

Kentaro Grace Maria, Ahikire Josephine, Ebila Florence


During the anti-colonial struggles, a number of religion and political movements were formed to oppose the colonial rule. In Uganda, particularly in Kigezi region, Nyabingi movement was one of the religion-political movement that pioneered the anticolonial struggles in Africa against the colonialism. However, its success depended on the Nyabingi supernatural powers, which was believed to have only possessed or chosen women as their spiritual mediums. The Nyabingi movement leader (Muhumuza) was believed to have had tremendous powers that could heal the sick, revived infertility in barren women and could give fortune. Such powered also create fear among the colonial powers (Germany, Belgians and the British) as they could be ambushed by the Nyabingi movement followers (Abagirwa) without their knowledge. This forced the colonial government in the western province of the British directorate (The current Kabale district) to introduce the witchcraft ordinance of 1912 that was meant to suppress all the Nyabingi movement activities including all its sorcery acts. Despite, all these, Nyabingi movement, its leadership often characterized with spirituality remained a threat, and eventually led to the downfall of colonialism in Uganda. The study therefore examined the intersection of the gender and spirituality in the dynamics of the (Reasons why the spiritual mediums) Nyabingi movement in Kigezi region in Uganda, how did the mediums (with the help of spirituality) helped in the mobilization of Abagirwa against the colonial rule, how such powers shaped the political landscape in Uganda.The study employed a historical research design and qualitative approach to collect data through archival/document review and historical oral tales from key informant interviews with historians, cultural leaders and elders as well as site visits. The study findings indicated that, gender played a big role in terms of expectations, socialization and power relations. For instance, women had higher capacity to nurture, high intelligence ability and mobilizing the Abagirwa, hence it is believed that these are some of strands that favored women to be possessed by the Nyabingi spirit than men and this can be evidenced from Muhumuza’s historical narrative. For instance, despite the existence of patriarchal practices at the time, Muhumuza who was a fearless leader, managed to mobilize the followers against the colonial powers in the name of Nyabingi spirit, irrespective of some doubts about the reality of existence of such powers. Her actions were able to shape women’s identity anticolonial struggles, identity of women in leadership and paved way for Uganda’s independence.  However, despite role of women in anticolonial struggles, their recognition and contributions in various fields including to Uganda’s independence remains low. Hence, there is need to develop a robust policy responses for intervention.

Keywords: Gender spirituality, Nyabingi movement, anti-colonial struggles in Uganda

DOI: 10.7176/RHSS/13-18-02

Publication date:October 31st 2023

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