Gumboreshumba , also known as Kagubi, lived in Chikwaka's Kraal in the Goromonzi Hill, near Harare. He was obviously a man of some substance in the area. He was married to a daughter of Chief Mashonganyika whose kraal was some three miles to the south of the Goromonzi Hill and he also had wives from the kraal of headman Gondo which is also in the vicinity of Goromonzi Hill. He became known as a supplier of good luck in hunting and was able to speak to people “from the trees and the rocks”. He was believed to be the spirit husband of the other great Shona spirit, Nehanda. He was a powerful spirit medium and, along with Mbuya Nehanda and Mkwati, he was instrumental in organizing the first nationwide resistance to colonial rule (the Chimurenga of 1896 - 1897)
The historical Kaguvi lived in the land currently known as Zimbabwe and was active between 1660 and 1680 as one of the founders of the Rozwi Empire. He was at that time the leader of Guruuswa, the area occupying the south-west quarter of Zimbabwe, and he took over leadership of the Rozwi dynasty from Gumboreshumba who is called the progenitor of the Rozwi dynasty which eventually ruled most of this country.
Kaguvi's spirit (his mudzimu) lived on from that time occupying the human form of a svikiro (spirit medium). Before the European occupation of present day Zimbabwe, Kaguvi's spirit medium was Kawodza who lived on the present day Kaguvi Hill on the southern bank of the Umfuli River approximately 13 miles west of Beatrice town. Below this hill is a pool in the Umfuli River which has never been known to dry up and which according to Shona tradition used to give forth the noises of cattle, sheep, goats and cockerels. Kawodza himself was killed in a Matabele raid and the family of his son fled north, eventually settling in these hills. One of his sons was Gumboreshumba, presumably named after the founder of the Rozwi dynasty and, prior to the European occupation in 1890, Gumboreshumba found himself possessed of the Kaguvi spirit previously held by his grandfather, Kawodza.
As colonialism began to get its grip on the natives of Zimbabwe, there was military drive to rid of the British settlers. The collective efforts of the locals to get rid of the British colonialist in the period of 1896 - 1897 have become known as the First Chimurenga.
Due to the cultural beliefs of the locals, the leading roles behind the rebellion were played by three spirit mediums. The rebellion was initiated in Matebeland in May 1896, the leader there being Mukwati. In October 1896 Gumboreshumba and Nehanda from Mashonaland joined in; these were the three critical people behind the rebellion
Gumboreshumba, who is hereafter called Kaguvi, whilst he was in the Umfuli area sent messengers to the spirit medium, Mukwati, who lived in a cave in the Matopos and who was the svikiro of the Supreme God, Mwari. These messengers were sent to obtain medicine to destroy locusts but they came back to Mashonaland with the news that Mukwati had revealed that the Shona should rise up against the whites in the same way as the Matabele were doing and that Kaguvi would have the same powers to kill the whites as Mukwati had. Kaguvi being the spiritual husband of Nehanda managed to convince her to preach the gospel of war in Mashonaland.
Because of Kaguvi’s Goromonzi connection, it is not surprising that his message was acted upon quickly in the area. In fact the commander of Chief Chikwaka's warriors, Zhanti, actually travelled to the Umfuli to receive the message and returned to this place eager to act upon it. The rebellion broke out around 16 June 1896, with the first killings being in the Umfuli / Hartley and Norton areas. So it was that Kaguvi, who was an emaciated looking 'man of about forty years of age', who had previously specialized in providing medicine to ensure success in hunting, now preached war to the death. There is a historical eyewitness account of some of the events Kaguvi was involved in:
“Kaguvi and Dakwende arrayed themselves in striking feather caps and fastened horns upon their heads …. These two worthies would then rush into the centre of the people….. then falling into trance, presumably possessed, gave out orders as though coming from the ancestors whom they all revered”
By the end of 1896, the authorities had at last recognised the importance of the 'spirit mediums' to the rebel cause. Lord Earl Grey wrote to his wife, “Kaguvi is the witch-doctor who is preventing the Mashona from surrendering, whilst a native commissioner in the then Salisbury wrote, “If we capture Kaguvi the war is over”. From then on the military began to exert increasing pressure on the areas where Kaguvi and Mkwati had set up their headquarters, but both men escaped when, after three attempts, the stockaded kraal was stormed. They took refuge in the Mazoe valley with Nehanda.
After their capture, the prisoners, Nehanda and Kaguvi were perplexed by the white men's long processes of the law which only ended in March of 1898 with their conviction; they were hanged seven weeks later. It is necessary to read the account of Kaguvi's last days, written by a priest from Chishawasha Mission. He came to offer Nehanda and Kaguvi religious instruction and baptism, and, although Kaguvi at first refused to listen to him, he came to believe later that it might help him to avoid the gallows; somewhat pathetically he even offered his clerical visitor "10 head of cattle, his children, etc., if only I could get his sentence changed'.
Nehanda on the other hand loudly and constantly rejected the priest's services. Nehanda was hanged first, in the view of Kaguvi.
“After which though a very much frightened Kaguvi listened to me and repeated he would no longer refuse to receive baptism. After he had made the necessary acts of faith, repentance, etc., I baptised him, giving him the name of the chief Dismas . . . Kaguvi did not give the least trouble nor did he make any lamentation. He died. . . quiet and resigned, and, as I hoped, in good dispositions."He was hanged in 1898 at the same time as Nehanda, but unlike Nehanda who remained proud and unrepentant to the end, Kaguvi appeared to recant and shortly before his execution.
It seems clear that despite this somewhat abject ending, Kaguvi should be credited with the spark which set alight the rebellion and yet his spirit wife, Nehanda, seems to have received more acclaim for this than he has. Is it that the people remember and compare his lack of courage at the end with the steadfastness of Nehanda or is it that his spirit was not as powerful as that of Nehanda? One hears of the Nehanda spirit being resurrected not only in the war that led to the independence of Zimbabwe but also in other times of crisis between the first and second Chimurenga wars.
Charles Bullock in a footnote in his book, The Mashona, published in 1927, has this to say:
"It was no leading Mashona chief who fermented the rebellion in Mashonaland but Kaguvi. That false charlatan with his concertina and paraffin tins deceived the people into believing that he was the host of the God of Battles - the Lord of Sabbath; and that his spirit power would blind the white enemies or turn them into mountain hares. He was an impostor to us - but even so to the natives eventually; for the spirit he claimed as he did, did not rise again in another. "