Vimbuza is a spirit possession ceremony practiced by the Tumbuka people who live in eastern Zambia and northern Malawi. In Vimbuza ceremonies women who are believed to be possessed by wrathful spirits are given free reign to express their anger about members of their family and the community who have ill-treated them. Their complaints are attended to and they are rewarded with gifts in order to allow the angry spirits to leave in peace. See also Vimbuza Songs that we’ve posted previously.

Tumbuka women have mixed feelings about their husbands going to work in the South African gold mines. The following spirit possession songs express some of their complaints.

The chief advantage of working in South Africa is that the husband can afford a suit for himself and clothing for his wife. Note the contrast between clothing and going naked in the bush. Sung by Nyamanda, Kalingalinga cound, Lusaka, Zambia, 25 March, 1973.

What will I ever wear with him?
What will I ever wear with him?
What will I ever wear with him?
Oh mother, my boyfriend!
Mr Jere, eee,
My boyfriend.
Your friends go to Johannesburg
So they can buy suits.
You go into the bush
To dig for rats. (1)
A needle can prick you
Through your threadbare shorts.
My boyfriend!
My boyfriend!
Should I use a rat’s skin
to tie my baby on my back?
Should I use a rat’s skull
To drink my water from?
My boyfriend!
My boyfriend!

Nivwalechi nawo?
Nivwalechi nawo?
Nivwalechi nawo?
Mama we, Boyi lane!
aJere, eee,
Boyi lane.
Anyinu wakuya kuJoni
Kukagula suti.
Imwe, kukuya susanga.
Kukagima mbewa.
Zingano wamulasaninge
Mukubudula.
Boyi lane!
Boyi lane!
Nitole Chikumba chambewa
Nibapile mwana?
Nitole mutu wambewa
Nimwerlama maji?
Boyi lane!
Boyi lane!

Again, a song about clothing, sung by B.K. Nyilongo, Mbulunji village, Rumphi district, Malawi, 15 January, 1984.

You, leaving now for Jo’burg,
Tell him when you arrive I am naked!
Your mother is naked too!
I am naked! I am naked!
Your mother is naked too!
Your child must be carried by hand. (2)
I am naked!
Your mother is naked too!

Imwe, mukuya kujoni,
Mukawaphalirengeko ine nkhule!
Wanyinamwe nkule!
Ine nkhule! Ine nkhule!
Wanyinamwe nkule!
Mwana wayegha n’manga
Ine nkhule!
Wanyinamwe nkule!

One of the women’s greatest fears is that the migrant husband will frequent prostitutes in Johannesburg. Sung by B.K. Nyilongo, Mbulunji village, Rumphi district, Malawi, 15 January, 1984.

You, who are leaving for Jo’burg,
Make it clear to Binwell
He should leave the whores alone
Lest he die in a foreign land!
Binwell, leave the whores alone!
Binwell, leave the whores alone!
Lest you die in a foreign land!

Imwe, mukuya kuloni,
Mukamuphalirengeko Binwell
Uhule waleke
Wafwirenge muthowa!
Binwell, uhule wuleke!
Binwell, uhule wuleke!
Wafwirenge muthowa!

Frequenting prostitutes can bring sexual diseases into the family. The singer here is being blamed for her childlessness, which she blames in turn on her husband’s gonorrhea. Sung by NyaKamenya, Chiwono village, Rumphi district, Malawi, 8 September, 1984.

Alas, Mr Nyilongo!
It’s gonorrhea has finished your semen.
Don’t go blaming me!
Alas, Mr Nyilongo!
Gonorrhea has finished your semen.
Don’t go blaming me!

Iyayi lelo, waNyilongo!
Gozoli wamala mphapo.
Lekani kundidelela!
Iyayi lelo, waNyilongo!
Gozoli wamala mphapo.
Lekani kundidelela!

Money derived from labour migration can also be used to pay bridewealth for extra wives. The singer rejects polygyny and wants a divorce, but under the Ngoni system of marriage she will lose access to her children. Sung by Selina Nyirenda, Garden compound, Lusaka, Zambia, 20 August, 1985.

The Phiri woman says, “He’s mine”,
The Banda woman says, “He’s mine”.
I reject this man!
Lya-ya-ye,
where’s the government court?
Yes,
I want to take my complaint to the court
But I will lose my children.
I cannot do it!
The old one says, “He’s mine”,
The young one says, “He’s mine”.
I reject this man!
Lya-ya-ye,
where’s the government court?
Yes,
I want to take my complaint to the court
But I will lose my children.
I cannot do it!

NyaPhiri weakuti “Ngwane”,
NyaBanda wakuti “Ngwane”.
Kumwanalume yumoza nakana!
Lya-ya-ye,
nyumba yathenga njihi?
Aenya ee,
nikapeleko madando
Ningakuza wana wane ine.
Nakana!
Mulala wakuti “Ngwane”,
Mudoko wakuti “Ngwane”.
Kumwanalume yumoza nakana!
Lya-ya-ye,
nyumba yathenga njihi?
Aenya ee,
nikapeleko madando
Ningakuza wana wane ine.
Nakana!

Second wives can include urban women of greater sophistication than the first from the village., Sung by E.T. Nyirenda, Mzokoto village, Rumphi district, Malawi, 14 January, 1984.

Listen, you there in Jo’burg,
Who is to marry me now?
Oh mother, save me!
He has married “Miss Posh”, mother.
She has a house with an iron roof, mother,
Even a padlocked door, mother.
Oh mother, save me!

Ati kujoni, yee
Ninjani wanthale?
Amana, heliyaye!
Watola nyaPagilo, amana.
Nyumba yamalata, amana,
Chijalo capadiloko, amana.
Amana, heliyaye!

The metaphor of clothing once again. The singer complains that she will only be properly dressed when her relatives prepare her for burial. Sung by Nyamayuni Msiska, Wayungwa village, Rumphi district, Malawi, 4 January 1984.

Yes, I’ve worn a flower print dress.
Yes, I’ve worn a flower print dress.
Yes, I’ve worn a flower print dress.
I’ve worn it in the grave, eee.

Saku yamaluwa ndayivwala kale.
Saku yamaluwa ndayivwala kale.
Saku yamaluwa ndayivwala kale.
Ndayivwalira kumanda – eee.

Labour migrancy is here equated with death – death of the marriage, death perhaps of the man, death of village society itself. Sung by Eliza NyaMtonga, Jimusanga village, Lundazi district, Zambia, 16 August, 1985.

Eleli! Mother, father has gone,
Eleli! Mother, he has gone to Jo’burg
Eleli! Mother, Jo’burg is a graveyard.
Oh, I have seen that.
Ha hee! Help me, hee!
Hee! I have seen that.
Ha hee! Help me, hee!

Eleli! Mama, adada walikuya,
Eleli! Mama, walikua kuJoni.
Eleli! Mana, juJoni nkhumalaro,
Naliona ine.
Ha hee! Nithelekeni hee!
Hee! Naliona ine.
Ha hee! Nithelekeni hee!

In the most shocking of these songs about labour migration, the singer’s father-in-law has taken advantage of his son’s absence to make sexual advances. In all these songs, the singer is backed up by other women singing the chorus (in italics). Here, the shocked chorus makes up half the song. Sung by Tamalanji NyaPhiri, Chingala village, Lundazi district, Zambia, 7 September, 1982.

Father-in-law, get out now
So I can reveal who did it!
Ehee – yawa!
Oleee,
Eeeee!
Eeeee!
Eeeee!
Old man, get out now
So I can reveal it was you who did it!
Ehee – yawa!
Oleee,
Eeeee!
Eeeee!
Eeeee!

Apongozi, fumanimo lero,
Nizunule yumo pera-hola!
Ehee – yawa!
Oleee,
Eeeee!
Eeeee!
Eeeee!
Amdala, fumanimo lero,
Nizunule imwe pera-hola!
Ehee – yawa!
Oleee,
Eeeee!
Eeeee!
Eeeee!

From Power and the Praise Poem,
by Leroy Vail and Landeg White.
University Press of Virginia, 1991


Footnotes

  1. Rats, of all creatures hunted in the bush, the least desirable.
  2. That is, instead of in a cloth on the mother’s back.