Nyabinghi or Nyabingi is the oldest of the Mansions of Rastafari and a prominent figure in the history of Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, where religions or 'possession cults' formed around her.


Nyabinghi was a legendary Rwandan/Ugandan/Tanzanian woman, whose name is reported to mean "the one who possesses many things".[1][2] The date and place of her birth are contested. Jim Freedman, an anthropologist who studied the Nyabinghi movement in Rwanda/Uganda, dates the 'birth' of Nyabinghi between 1750–1800.[3]


The veneration or worship of the deity or spirit of the woman known as Nyabinghi began in Rwanda, around 1800. She was thought to be a powerful force in everyday life. Religious practice operated through a medium who was in communication with the spirit of Nyabinghi. To appease her spirit, believers brought offerings to the medium who would negotiate with the spirit on the believer's behalf. While there were specific mediums that communicated with Nyabinghi directly, Nyabinghi could also possess ordinary people who were not leaders or official mediums within the religion. Belief in this religion was particularly strong in the southern parts of Uganda and the northern regions of Rwanda, areas which had formerly been part of the precolonial kingdom of Ndorwa.[3]


Nyabinghi was said to have possessed a Rwandan/Ugandan woman named Muhumusa, who was a famous Nyabinghi medium in the 19th to early 20th century. Muhumusa led a campaign against Yuhi V of Rwanda, claiming to be mother to the rightful heir to the Rwandan throne. She also led and then inspired further anti-colonial movements in East Africa, rebelling against European colonial authorities.[4] Although she was captured in 1913, alleged possessions by Nyabinghi continued afterward across East Africa (mostly afflicting women). The bloodline of the true Nyabinghi warriors supposedly settled in the heart of Dzimba dze Mabwe, now known as Zimbabwe.[citation needed]

Sans danceEdit

The Nyabinghi resistance inspired a number of Jamaican Rastas, who incorporated what are known as Nyabinghi chants (binghi) into their celebrations (grounations).[citation needed] The rhythms of these chants were an influence on popular ska, rocksteady and reggae music. Three kinds of drums are used in Nyabinghi music: bass, funde and keteh. The keteh plays an improvised syncopation rooted in Ashanti dance and drumming,[5] the funde plays a regular one-two beat and the bass drum strikes loudly on the first beat, and softly on the third (of fourth) beat. Count Ossie was the first to record Nyabinghi and helped to establish and maintain Rasta culture.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Jamaica". Suppressed Histories. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  2. ^ Pauwels, Marcel (1951). "Le Culte de Nyabingi (Ruanda)". Anthropos. 45: 337–357.
  3. ^ a b Freedman, Jim (1984). Nyabingi: The Social History of an African Divinity. Tervuren, Belgique: Muse royal de l'Afrique centrale.
  4. ^ Des Forges, Alison (2011). Defeat is the Only Bad News: Rwanda Under Musinga, 1896-1931. The University of Wisconsin Press.
  5. ^ Asante Ivory Trumpet Music in Ghana: Culture Tradition and Sound Barrage By Joseph S. Kaminski

Further readingEdit

  • Hopkins, Elizabeth. “The Nyabingi Cult of Southwestern Uganda.” Protest and Power in Black Africa. Ed. Robert I. Rotberg and Ali A. Mazrui. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. 258-336.