Comparative Studies in Society and History




Changing Religions

The Early Days of Johane Masowe: Self-Doubt, Uncertainty, and Religious Transformation


Matthew Engelke a1
a1 Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics

In 1932 a young man called Shoniwa Masedza was working for a cobbler near Salisbury, the capital of Southern Rhodesia. Masedza had come from his home in Makoni, near the border with Portuguese East Africa, in the late 1920s. He had held a number of odd jobs in and around the capital: driving wagons, working as a “garden boy,” apprenticing with a carpenter. Just after starting with the shoemaker, some time around May 1932, Shoniwa fell ill, suffering from “severe pains in the head.” He lost his speech for four months and was “unable to walk about.” During his sickness he studied the Bible “continuously.” He dreamt that he had died, and in the dream he heard a voice saying he was now Johane Masowe—Africa's “John the Baptist.” Upon recovering, Johane went to a nearby hill called Marimba. He stayed there for forty days, praying to God “day and night” without sleep. He survived on wild honey. Johane was told by a voice (which he believed to be the Voice of God) that he had been “sent from Heaven to carry out religious work among the natives.” He was told also that Africans must burn their witchcraft medicines, and must not commit adultery or rape. After these experiences, Johane no longer suffered from pains in the head.



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