mami wata

On Njuzu, The Mysterious Ones

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By: Baba Siete


In the interest of educating and elucidating the wider community regarding the elusive and mysterious water spirits known as njuzu, I am writing this article to hopefully answer some questions that the public may have. 

I am entitled to speak on njuzu through my initiatory rank of nganga, gained by passing through initiation to njuzu on November 5th, 2011. 

The word njuzu, also nzuzu, njusu, zuzu...refers to the phenomena of water spirits as personifications of water as understood by the Shona/Ndebele people (a Bantu people). In English/pidgin, these deities are also called Mami Wata, as many water spirits across the continent of Africa are referred to.  However, the phenomenon of water spirits is immensely ancient and foundational to our spiritualities. Each culture will refer to water spirits as a whole according to their understanding. 

Water is life, and water is dangerous. Water is the gate to the spirit world, the universal medium. Water, as an ambiguous and powerful element that is chief in necessity to life, has been venerated across cultures. 

Njuzu is what the Shona/Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and certain areas of South Africa refer to as the water spirits, especially feminine water spirits. These spirits variously take the form of “normal, but immensely beautiful humans”, mermaids, snakes, snake-people, crocodiles, other reptiles, and some aquatic birds. They are shapeshifters, and wear forms like clothing. 

These spirits are vested with immense power over abundance, wealth, fertility, healing, spiritual sight, birth, and are often psychopomps.

Njuzu are multitudinous, and cannot be counted. They cannot be counted in the way that one cannot count how many drops of water are in the ocean. They are also very individual in their existence. Each is unique, and each is fully invested with the power of Water. 

There are various types of njuzu- the most famous are those that personify bodies of water, like rivers and lakes. There are also njuzu who are celestial in nature and are not tied to a specific body of water. These spirits are extremely rare (as most cannot be bothered with humans) and the magnitude of their power is not to be underestimated.

There are many stories pertaining to Njuzu, namely where a hunter or other young man coming of age encounters an njuzu, usually a female njuzu who is bathing or otherwise engaging in private behaviour, such as washing her clothes. The young man ends up marrying her (he usually screws it up and loses the blessings attached to her presence) or studying with her, underwater,  for a set period of time before being released to the community to be a healer, an nganga.  They will often test you by stretching the limits of what you would accept as hospitality. 

The njuzu call to those who are their children. They reach out across the veil to communicate with those who would be their nganga, their proxies on earth.  They speak in the language of dreams and omens, pulling at you, showing you messages that indicate that you need to be initiated, to receive their protection and their authority. Njuzu bring wealth, success, and wisdom to their initiates. They bring stability. These are, however, relationships that must be maintained. Initiation is permanent. 

People called by njuzu have reported dreams of their special animals (like snakes), being drowned, being bathed by mermaids, visiting the underwater palaces of said mermaids, their homes being flooded and so on. 

They have often exhibited states of trance that lead them to bodies of water, agitation in the water, or agitation everywhere BUT the water. 

Njuzu also speak through the oracles of those who are their proxies, and often speak through the ancestors as well. In fact, the line between what is an njuzu and what is an ancestor is sometimes very thin. 

You see, njuzu can also be “made”. A person can become njuzu under certain circumstances, like through drowning in a body of water. This can also happen on a large scale- it is our understanding and belief that the Ancestors of the Middle Passage who drowned in the Atlantic Ocean are water spirits, a new class of water spirits created by the experience of the Diaspora. 

And there have long been stories of njuzu marrying mortals and passing their gifts onto their children. 

In closing, I would like to also address the universal scope of the phenomenon of the water spirits. All cultures that have engaged with water have water spirits. 

More explicitly, many nganga of the njuzu on the continent have written or spoken about the water spirits they have seen. They have described mer-people who could be described as “European”. Some have explained this as a colonial insertion of European beauty standards and that it has adversely affected the way these spirits are interpreted by seers who are using the accessible to describe the ineffable. Others have said that the Water is vast (and multidimensional) enough that it is quite possible that they are seeing spirits like Melusine (a famous European mermaid who is the ancestress of many European royal lineages) and her sisters in the water. Yet others have noted that individuals with albinism were often killed for their condition , especially for spiritual work or medicines we personally hold to be unethical and horrifyingly inhumane…and that perhaps of those drowned, they may have become njuzu. 

It would be remiss to make insulting assumptions that Africans did not conceive of mermaids until they saw mermaid-figureheads on European ships. It is also anti-black to assume that that Africans were so ignorant and intellectually deficient as to not be able to tell the difference between a manatee and a human form, or a ship’s figurehead from a woman. 

We have extensive archaeological evidence associating various African divinities with fish, serpents, and other aquatic animals. These deities were usually heavily associated with water. From Yemoja to Olokun to the Nommos to Kuitikuiti to Bunzi to Njaba to Imo Mmiri to Sobek and Hapi and the ndlozi and njuzu.

The spirits of the water are multitudinous. 

Humbly submitted, 

Baba Bukhosi Bhekizulu cha Njuzu

Baba Siete, Serene One of The Myriad. 

***If you have experienced signs and omens that you feel are njuzu calling you, do not hesitate to contact The Myriad to have this assessed via divination. We have the capacity to help you and if necessary, initiate you to njuzu. Our contact email is Inquiries.themyriad@gmail.com***