Vimbuza: The Healing Dance

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Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa, is a country in the southern region of Africa. It is widely known for the beautiful Lake Malawi, the many tourist attractions and the warm and friendly people. Malawi has 8 distinct tribes namely, the Chewa, Yao, Tumbuka, Lhomwe, Sena, Ngonde, Ngoni, and Tonga. My father is Tumbuka, while my mother is Ngoni. But for today’s prompt, I wanted to share with you about Vimbuza, a dance of healing that is performed by Tumbukas.

The Tumbuka people are found in the northern region of the country. Their language is known as chitumbuka, their staple meal is kondowole, a think porridge from cassava flour. Although they are one of the smallest tribes by population, they are widely known for having a large portion of their tribe being educated. One of the distinct aspects of the culture is the vimbuza dance which is known to heal a lot of mental illnesses.

Vimbuza goes back as early as the 19th century when it was developed as a way to heal those that had traumatic experiences due to oppression. Although Christian missionaries tried desperately to end it and was forbidden, people still performed it. It is believed that it is a way of people to express their mental illnesses in a way that the society would understand.

A person who undergoes this is one possessed by the vimbuza spirits, or demonic spirits. Other healers have also said that each person is born with vimuza, however they become significant when nyanga has attacked them. Nyanga is known as a witchcraft power that sometimes can claim ones life. Thus, the vimbuza will activate to fight off the nyanga which leads to one falling seriously ill.

Signs of vimbuza are hallucinations, bad dreams, migraines just to memtion a few which are often not healed by using hospital medication. When one falls ill, they are taken to a healer, usually is someone that had also suffered from vimbuza and healed. Most healers are men.

They are taken to their tempiri, a village house which offers accommodation to the patients. One can stay there for a week or even a month until the spirits leave ones body. The spirits are common in women and children.

The vimbuza dance involves the healer beating ng’oma (drums of affliction), while the patient dances. They are surrounded by women and children from the village who help by clapping their hands and singing some of the vimbuza songs.

During this time, the spirit takes over the personality of the person due to being heated by the ng’oma. When they dance, it is believed that the spirits leave the body and one gets better after.

One could say that vimbuza dancing is therapy. A form of dancing that makes the mind right. Although this dance is still performed in many villages around the north, it is still not accepted by Christians and they have consistently discouraged it.

I hope you enjoyed the reading. Like and comment.

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7 thoughts on “Vimbuza: The Healing Dance

  1. My dad’s also Tumbuka but because I was born and grew up in another country I know very little of our culture and heritage. This has taught me something. Thanks!

  2. Well, I grew up with this dance and aspired to be a healer as you know no role models in the village then but school snatched me away.
    I have a personal experience of this dance and am hopeful I can add a little light here. When someone has vimbuza they have periodic surges of these spirits, they become incoherent, abnormal shouts, some could even be talking to ancestors and they become abnormally powerful.
    That’s when drums are beaten combined with songs and clapping in order to calm down the spirits.
    These people were easily recognised in the village because they wore beads on their arms, ankles and head. These people had to follow rules on what to eat or drink, places they can go and not.
    On a weekly basis at night we used to go to one healers temple(thempili) for performances which included even drinking blood of animals by those high on spirits to calm down.
    The thempili was lit with low flamed kerosene light, the healer dressed in white robe and red bands tied to his head and waist with a fly whisk (litchowa) in his/her hand, a bible and a cross painted on his forehead. On the floor white flour was used to draw a big circle with a crucifix in the middle.
    The sessions would usually begin with reading the bible by healer, then songs, clapping and heavy drumming would follow. The healer would start dancing while in the process calling on the spirits to dwell in our midst.

    In no time you will find someone is on the floor uncontrollable that’s when they same the spirits have taken control of him/her (nthenda zakwera). That person will then start dancing, but most of them would fall down again and just shouting and telling people what the ancestors are saying.

    Then the healer plus his helpers and the elderly would take the person outside surround him while on their knees and clapping and start chanting names of spiritual hills, rivers and the people long dead to calm the person (saying: nthenda zikhile, nthenda zigowoke…)

    But the most bizarre I witnessed was where the man who was under spiritual influence had to be given a live white chicken to suck blood from in order to calm the spirits down (its called chilopa).
    When they brought the chicken he just grabbed it and bite it and sucked the blood from it until it was dead. Afterwards he would become normal again.

    UNESCO recognized this dance and strives to preserve it just like gulewankulu with the chewas.

    1. Thank you very much Yonah, this was very insightful. I aspire to one day see the healing being performed, it would make my soul happy

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