Exploring the Origins and Expansion of the Nyaminyami (Water Spirit) Belief Systems among the BaTonga People of Northwestern Zimbabwe

In: Journal of Religion in Africa
Joshua Matanzima Department of Anthropology, Rhodes University Makhanda (Grahamstown) South Africa

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Water spirits are an integral part of African traditional religious beliefs and ritual practices. Like many other African traditional religious practices and beliefs, water spirit beliefs are characterized by complex ‘myths’ surrounding their origins. In that regard, this paper explores the origins and expansion of the Nyaminyami (water spirit,) beliefs prevalent among some BaTonga people of northwestern Zimbabwe. It argues that these beliefs were exotic to the BaTonga people. In so doing, it substantiates the assumption by Elizabeth Colson and Thayer Scudder that Nyaminyami was a foreign idea to the BaTonga people. This study brings in new contemporary evidence to substantiate and extend this diffusionist perspective. It provides evidence from ethnographic research conducted among the BaTonga and Shangwe-speaking peoples living in the immediate vicinity of the Kariba Gorge area from April to November 2017. This study also rests on the wider scholarship on water divinities in Africa that explains the emergence of water divinities in different societies through diffusion of ideas. The study further examines the ways by which the cultural borrowing may have occurred, as well as the period and the extent to which the diffusion of ideas occurred, based on the ethnographic evidence.

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