The Shembe’s Rise to the Lord

Near Inanda, north of Durban, is a sacred site called Ekuphakameni, the ‘Place of Spiritual Upliftment’. It was named by Isaiah Shembe, prophet and founder of the Shembe Church. A major festival is held in mid-January at an equally sacred location, the mountain dubbed Nhlangakazi, some 30 kilometres north of Ekuphakameni. “Our pilgrimage to the mountain is based on the third book of Moses,” says a preacher from the area, Reverend Nxumalo. “It dates back to a revelation Shembe experienced in 1916, in which he was told that the Lord would speak to him on the holy mountain, Nhlangakazi, just as He had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai.”

Contents

1 Ekuphakameni
2 Housing at Ekuphakameni
3 Festivals
4 IsiZulu Summary
5 Reference

Ekuphakameni
Ekuphakameni is the place where the Shembe’s holiest shrines are to be found. Most of them were erected by Shembe himself. Egumbini, the ‘House of the Tabernacle,’ one of the holiest of holies, lies to the east of the Inanda Road. It adjoins a tree-lined open area termed ‘Paradise’. As a token of respect, visitors must remove their shoes before crossing this terrain.

It is said that the late founder of the Shembe movement was alone on a hillside when struck down by lightning. The voice of the Lord thundered the command: “Go south!” Isaiah Shembe was carried, unconscious, to his hut. He was paralysed, and taken for dead. The women of his village wailed and ululated in hysterical fear. Sangomas and witchdoctors were summoned, and rituals performed to revive Shembe. When he came to, he told his followers that he was among spirits who had instructed him to go south. He duly left on his pilgrimage, carrying his Bible, blanket, stick and precious gifts from his followers.

Housing at Ekuphakameni
Among the sacraments stored in the Tabernacle at Ekuphakameni is a supply of holy water used for purification ceremonies. The Shembe village is divided into five distinct living areas. Young women live in specially set aside stone dwellings. They are carefully brought up in age differentiated groups by the elders, and subjected to rigid discipline. Within the temple area, the Shembe leader resides in ‘eGumbini langaphakathi,’ near the Tabernacle. The married quarters for men and women are known as ‘ekamu’, and the older men’s quarters as ‘inhlalisuthi,’ whereas women live on the eastern side of the main church in an area referred to as ‘kwa Fourteen’ or ‘Jamengweni’.

In future, boys living within the village will be divided into two age groupings, and once they are older they will move to the ‘Inhlalisuthi’ – quarters reserved for older males. Female children are divided into three groupings, known as ‘amasheshakungena’ (up to 11 years), ‘amatubhane’ (teenagers, not yet of marriageable age) and the ‘Twenty Fives’ or ‘amakhosazane’ (those who are ready to marry).

Festivals
The Shembe Church is well known for its spectacular dance festivals and the church’s structure is a fascinating mixture of Christian dogma and the tenets of Zulu culture. The founder of the church inculcated in his followers a belief that closely mirrors the traditional norms of social and moral behaviour among the Zulu people. “Our rituals include baptism by immersion, the keeping of the Sabbath, observance of a seven day fast before Holy Communion, and the celebration of Holy Communion at night, preceded by feet washing ceremonies,” says Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Shembe Church. “Holy Communion is celebrated twice a year, during the January and July festivals.”

The January festivals, particularly the one held in mid-January, see Shembe followers, clad in traditional white garments, flock to the holy mountain of Nhlangakazi. Some worshippers travel very long distances to reach the holy mountain, where they participate in ritualistic song and dance. During the exodus to the mountain, the Shembe take part in a hypnotic, trance-like dance, with the men leading the way. The married women follow, carrying furled umbrellas and tiny ceremonial shields in the same colours as their church clothing. They are, in turn, followed by young maidens in full traditional regalia. A constant stream of vehicles and barefooted worshippers snakes along the dusty road to the holy site.
Praising the Almighty on top of the mountain, and executing traditional Zulu dances, the Shembe reflect an alternative version of Christianity, which has evolved based on the Old, rather than the New Testament. The festival has evolved into one of the most colourful spectacles in Southern Africa, and it attracts increasing numbers of tourists each year.

IsiZulu Summary
ENanda, etholakala eNyakatho yeTheku, kunendawo engcwele eyaziwa ngokuthi iseKuphakameni. Yaqanjwa uIsaiah Shembe, umphrofethi nomqali webandla lakwaShembe. Umkhosi omkhulu uba phakathi noMasingana entabeni iNhlangakazi eNyakatho nendawo yasekuPhakameni. UMfundisi Nxumalo uthi, “Loluhambo luncike kakhulu encwadini yesithathu kaMose. Umphrofethi uShembe wafikelwa umbono ngo 1916 wokuthi uNkulunkulu ufuna ukukhuluma naye entabeni yaseNhlangakazi njengoba wayetshele noMose entabeni yaseSinayi.” Ekuphakameni yindawo engcwele yamaShembe. Iningi lazo lwakhiwa uShembe uqobo. Egumbini litholakala empumalanga nomgwaqo iNanda yindawo engcwele kakhulu. Indawo ipharadayisi, njengenhlonipho izihambeli zikhulumula izicathula ngaphambi kokuwela.

Kuthiwa umqambi wendlela wayeyedwa entabeni ngesikhathi eshaywa umbani. Izwi leNkosi lathi akaye eNingizimu. UShembe wathwalwa wahanjiswa elawini lakhe ekhubazekile futhi esedlulile emhlabeni. Kwaba nesililo kwabizwa izangoma nezinyanga ukuzovusa uShembe. Ekuphaphameni kwakhe washo wathi uyahamba ngemuva kwezi ebelimtshela ukuthi akaye eNingizimu. Washiya abantu abamlandelayo ephethe incwadi engcwele, ingubo yokulala, induku kanye nezipho zekhethelo azinikwa abalandeli bakhe.
Kumasakramente agcinwe eKuphakameni amanzi angcwele. Indawo yakwaShembe ihlukaniswe izigama ezinhlanu. Amantombazane ahlala endaweni eyakhiwe ngamatshe. Bahlukaniswe ngezigaba zeminyaka yabo. Umphathi uhlala eGumbini langaphakathi eduze netabanakeli. Izindawo zabashadile abesilisa nabesifazane kuthiwa yisekamu. Ezamadoda asekhulile kuthiwa isenhlalisuthi. Abesifazane asebekhulile bona bahlala empumalanga yebandla endaweni ekuthiwa yisefotini noma ejamengweni.
Abafana nabo bahlukaniswa izigaba ezimbili, uma sebekhule ngokwenele bahlala enhlalisuthi. Amantombazane wona ahlukaniswa izigaba ezintathu ezaziwa ngokuthi:

Amasheshakungena – kugcina eminyakeni ewu 11
Amatubhane – abangakakulungeli ukushada
Ama-twenty five noma amakhosazane – asebekulungele ukushada.

Ibandla lakwaShembe laziwa kakhulu ngomnyakazo walo odonsa amehlo. Futhi inkolo yabo ihlanganisa ubuKrestu kanye nesiko lesintu. Inkambiso yebandla ihlanganisa ukubhabhadiswa, ukugcina usuku lweSabatha nokuzila ukudla ngosuku lwesikhombisa ngaphambi kwesidlo esingcwele nokugezwa kwezinyawo. Isidlo esingcwele sidliwa kabili ngonyaka ngoMasingana noNtulikazi. Umcimbi kaMasingana yilapho ubona abalandeli bakaShembe begqoke ezimhlophe benyuka intaba iNhlangakazi.
Abanye abalandeli bahamba amabanga amade. Kuba nokudansa. Kuqala amadoda, alandelwe abesifazane asebeshadile  bephethe izambulela namahawu amancane. Bese belandelwa amantombazane nawo ehlobe ngezawo izingubo. Loluhambo lwamaNazetha lwasentabeni seludonsa amehlo ezivakashi njalo.

Written by Themba Nyathikazi
Source website: www.durban.gov.za

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