“Like a voice crying in the wilderness!”
He who is cast down, shall be raised up!
John and Jesus were Nazarites, for they both went out into the wilderness to undergo a ritual where they resist the temptations of Satan that has everyhting to do with the Great Reversal, for you are joined to the Kingdom of God on earth, and in heaven. This is a test, to see if your are worthy to be a Councilor, a Judge filled with the Holy Ghost and Spirit. All Nazarites are eqaul to one another in the eyes of the Lord when they are joined to the secret NAME of their Lord. Consider John 17.
Five months ago I put Shembe’s words in a poem and read them at the Granary poetry reading. I bid all Africans to wake up! Kadafi was a very wealthy dictator and king. He left this world with nothing.
Play all videos as you read the Zulu Nazarite Cosmology – and be taken to the mountain tops where you will be filled with joy!
Jon the Nazarite
“Those are bestowed kingly authority
upon the mountain,
Wake up, wake up
The Scriptures of the amaNazaretha of EkuphaKameni
The amaNazarites of Isaiah Shembe are the oldest African Independent/Indigenous Church in South Africa. The church divided into two main sections in 1976 following the death of its leader Johannes Galilee Shembe [1904-1976]. The largest group was led by Amos Shembe [1907-1996], the other, smaller group, by Londa Shembe [1944-1989]. The following texts were produced with the encouragement of Londa Shembe. By reproducing them we remain neutral with regard to the division in the church. Our only concern is to publicize the work of the founder the “prophet” Isaiah Shembe.
THEOLOGY OF THE AMA-NAZARITES WRITTEN AT THE REQUEST OF THE RIGHT REVEREND LONDA NSIKA SHEMBE BY G. C. OOSTHUIZEN
Shortly before his tragic murder in April 1989 the Right Reverend Londa Nsika Shembe, leader of the Ekuphakameni amaNazarites, asked me to write a theological introduction to his translation of Some Prayers and Writings of the Servant of Sorrows: Thumekile Isaiah Shembe. Although Londa Shembe and I had many long discussions about theology in general, and his church in particular, we had never really talked about the specifics of his theology. Therefore this chapter is based on general conversations and hints he gave before he died. The most important clue to his thinking is found in the fact that he repeatedly told me and many foreign visitors that he completely agreed with the view given in my book The Theology of a South African Messiah, and my article “Isaiah Shembe and the Zulu World View.” He also told me that his father Johannes Galilee Shembe had referred him to both of these publications and advised him to read them.
The theology of Isaiah Shembe was not based on the sword or violence but on his sincere conviction that he was the mouthpiece and instrument of Jehova, whom he reflected among the people, to lead the Zulu nation out of bondage. This
view also seems to have been held by Londa Shembe whose ideas were deeply embedded in the spirit of Isaiah Shembe. He firmly believed that Isaiah Shembe, his grandfather, had a special place in the celestial sphere. For him Isaiah Shembe was a messianic figure who had been a messiah to eight other peoples before he was incarnated into the Zulu people. Thus Londa Shembe saw Isaiah Shembe as a global figure who was born into the Zulu nation at a specific stage of their history to be their messiah. But, in his view, Isaiah Shembe was a cosmic messiah who should not be identified with the Zulus alone.
Londa Shembe maintained that his grandfather, Isaiah Shembe continued the essence of Jewish religion in his own teachings. He taught that the Biblical prophet Jeremiah referred to the Zulu people whom he believed were descended from the Jews. As a result Londa Shembe began to study Hebrew and was a voracious reader of books dealing with Jewish Religion. He also made contact with an Orthodox rabbi in Durban and unsuccessfully attempted to contact an Hasidic group in Johannesburg. Developing this theme he believed that the teachings of Isaiah Shembe and the teachings of “the old Afrikaner people” were the same because they both emphasized “Unkulunkuln Ka Adam”, the God of Adam.
The place of Jesus in Isaiah Shembe’s theology is problematic. According to Londa Shembe, Jesus was important to Isaiah Shembe when he first founded his church, as a result in his early hymns the name of Jesus was frequently mentioned. But, as time past, the name of Jesus disappeared from the hymns and the names Unkulunkulu, Umvelingqangi and Jehova, which are names for God, gradually became prominent.
Isaiah Shembe referred to Jesus as Liberator and Redeemer in Hymn 2:4 where he praises “the liberation of the hosts of heaven through Jesus the uMkhululi, Liberator, Redeemer.” In Hymn 5 the way of Jesus is pictured as hard and difficult, verse 1, because the gate is narrow, verse 2, and Jesus had no place to rest, verse 3. Therefore his followers have to take up the Cross, verse 5. Later in Hymn 23:4 Shembe stated that Jesus said if people love Him they will stay with Him and in Hymn 50.2 he stated “the brave ones are of Jesus,” amaqhawe ngaka Jesu.” Later in the same Hymn Jesus is referred to as “the judge of men, verse 6, while in Hymn 66:6 Isaiah Shembe refers to “the Father of Jesus” and “the Rewarder of love.” In an interview with Londa Shembe he stated:
When Isaiah started you find Jesus, for example, in Hymn 2 which was the first hymn he composed on Mount Nhlangakazi. In many of the songs and early hymns Jesus’ name appeared but towards the middle period no specific references are made to Jesus but the references are to Unkulunkulu, Umvelingqangi and Jehova. Towards the end it is neither Jesus nor Jesus Christ but Baba Isaiah himself. Isaiah Shembe in the last hymn states he went to the valley of sorrow/distress, cf. Hymn 219:4. His flock has broken his word. It is now his word that they have broken. One sees here how he has been growing. When one looks at the ezitsha (the objects) that he used for communion, there was a crucifix inside the box which means that he accepted it but he gradually grew more into himself. `When the bell rings at 9 o’clock’ he said, ‘you must remember me’. That’s why the services at all the churches and mission stations start at nine.
The theme of liberation touched Londa Shembe deeply as a law student and later as a church leader. He saw, however, that his grandfather’s theology must be seen in the context of the whole of South Africa and its enslavement under an apartheid ideology not just the liberation of the Zulu.
Zulu Christians, belonging to mission churches, often claim that followers of Isaiah Shembe believe he is God. On the basis of our conversations and my own research, I believe, it would be wrong to describe Isaiah Shembe as God, a god or even as a Black Jesus Christ. Rather, he was, and still is, a reflection of “Jehova” in the iBandla lamaNazaretha. This is because his spirit rules supreme in the hearts and minds of his people within the church. Londa Shembe believed that the spirit of his grandfather Isaiah Shembe was manifest in his father, Johannes Galilee Shembe, and finally, in his own person, thus giving unique authority to his own ministry.
In the history of religions people have often built messianic features into a founder of a religious movement and members of the iBandla lamaNazaretha are no exception. The hymns of Isaiah Shembe played a great role in this regard by elevating Isaiah Shembe above mortal men. To understand this development it is necessary to review the history of the founding of the church and Isaiah Shembe’s spiritual development.
THE HISTORY OF Isaiah SHEMBE AND THE AMA-NAZARITES
The church of the ama-Nazarites, also generally known as The Nazareth Baptist Church, or iBandla LamaNazaretha as they are known in Zulu, was founded by Isaiah Shembe around 1911. Isaiah Shembe was born around 1867 near the white town of Harrismith,
in the Orange Free State, into the family of an illiterate farm labourer who had great respect for the culture and tradition of his ancestors the Zulu people. When he died on May 2, 1935 he left behind one of the most influential churches in Africa. This church was and is totally separate from missionary churches and white control and is in no way dependent on them for ideas or financial support.
Isaiah Shembe firmly believed he received his calling directly from `Jehovah’. According to tradition Isaiah Shembe heard a “Voice” in a thunderstorm which told him to leave his mother and four wives, to shun immorality, and to serve God. During the storm he was burned by lightning but obeyed the “Voice” which told him not to have the lightning burns healed by medicine because Jehovah said he should be healed by His word alone. Following this experience Isaiah Shembe developed the qualities of an oboniswayo, a seer, within Zulu society and acted with great self-assurance. Relatively little is known, however, about Isaiah Shembe’s involvement with Christianity or missionaries. It seems he had some contact with the Methodist Church and became a member of the African Baptist Church in 1906. At that time he was already known among African Christians for his preaching and leadership abilities.
When he founded the iBandla lamaNazaretha in 1911 he did so because he was fully convinced that the Christians had failed to obey God’s law as laid down in the Hebrew Bible. In particular he emphasized that only through observation of the Sabbath could the Zulu nation be fully restored to its independence and former glory. In 1913 he selected a mountain in southern Natal, Nhlangakazi, as the “holy mountain,” or Sinai, of his church and founded the holy city of Ekuphakameni in 1914. Both places were to be sites of pilgrimage and annual rejoicing.
In 1911, when the ama-Nazarite movement was born, over 85 percent of the African population in South Africa still practised the indigenous religion of their ancestors. It is probable that Isaiah Shembe left the Methodist Church to join African Baptist Church in 1906 because of its indigenous character, Biblical literalism, and the importance it attached to adult baptism.
But, Shembe also had a deep concern for the restoration of the independence of the Zulu nation which was lost as a result of the Anglo-Zulu Wars of 1879 and further weakened by the Zulu Rebellion of 1906. Yet he realized that it was impossible for a small and isolated church to restore the spiritual well being of the Zulu people as a whole. Therefore he had the vision of a people’s movement which is what, under his able leadership, the Ama-Nazarites became.
We can safely say that the mission of Isaiah Shembe was to restore the dignity of the Zulu person and the independence of the Zulu nation who suffered greatly when they resisted the invasions of their country by first the Boers and later the British. The aim of Isaiah Shembe was to restore his people to the previous glory and this he believed could be done on the basis of God’s presence among the Zulu people in the same way as God had revealed His presence to ancient Israel. In 1913, two years after he founded The Church of the Nazarites, he had a vision which led him to declare that the church accepted the Sabbath as God’s holy day instead of the Christian Sunday. As a result of this vision he considered the Sabbath to be the key to Zulu fortunes because it was the test of true obedience to God.
All accounts make it clear that Shembe was a tremendous, dynamic preacher, counsellor and healer. He brought a sense of God’s presence into the midst of his hearers. His son Johannes Galilee Shembe described his father’s work by saying: “Isaiah Shembe showed you a God who walks on feet and who heals with his hands”. In this statement he acknowledges the fact that his own ministry depended on the spirit of his father, Isaiah Shembe. Furthermore, as the King was the sum and substance of the Zulu nation so too Isaiah Shembe was the King of his people. The Kingship pattern of Zulu society and its system of rank is deeply ingrained in “The Church of the Nazarites.” Londa Shembe emphasized this continuously. In an interview shortly before his death he stated:
My grandfather said to DiniZulu KaSolomon this is a kingdom of blood. He said: `You must come to Ekuphakameni and I will unite the tribes before God – they are still separate tribes and not united’. King Solomon agreed. There was then a house built for King Solomon (emzi Nkosi). My grandfather said that the house half-built should remain like that as a memorial to the fact that he called the Zulu King but he eventually declined the call which he eventually will regret. My grandfather told him that his Kingship will end and that his grandson Zwelithini will be the last Zulu King with the royal surname. Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s mother stayed at Ekuphakameni just before she had to go to McCords Hospital in Durban for the birth of her famous son. Mangosuthu is taking over all but in name from the King. My grandfather said all Zulus will be ruled by a man who comes from Ekuphakameni.
Thus Isaiah Shembe was not only a mediator between man and God but became a messianic figure – a messiah for the Zulu nation which he hoped to restore to its former glory.
Isaiah SHEMBE’S CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS OWN MISSION
Towards the end Isaiah Shembe’s life it appears that his consciousness of his mission for the liberation of the Zulus became more evident. This is very clear in his hymns. For example in Hymn 214 each stanza as the refrain: “Ye Zulus, we have heard him now”. Thus stanza 1 reads:
Our uMkhululi – (Liberator, Redeemer)
we the progeny of Dingaan
we have heard him, he has arrived.
uMkhululi has arrived!
uMkhululi has now arrived!
Ye Zulus, we have heard him now.
The whole tone of this Hymn emphasizes a people which suffered greatly as the result of white penetration and, as they saw it, the destruction of their country and nationhood. Significantly, reference is made to both Dingaan and Sendzangakhona. Dingaan was the Zulu chief who resisted white settlement only to be destroyed through the victory of his white enemies at the Battle of Blood River in 1838. Sendzangakhona, is generally accepted as the father of the Zulu people. These men also feature in Hymn 216 alongside the great folk hero of Zulu history Shaka and his half-brother Mhlangana.
In Hymn 218 the Zulus are called to come to Isaiah Shembe who is addressed as the iNkosi, or Lord . In the last Hymn written by Isaiah Shembe, Hymn 219, he is designated Babamkhulu or great father.
According to Londa Shembe “one can see Isaiah Shembe growing in the hymns he composed.” He maintained that the last Hymn before Isaiah Shembe’s death brought his work to completion by referring to the thousands of generations who stand before him.
Isaiah SHEMBE AND THE RESTORATION OF ZULU PRIDE
Isaiah Shembe wanted to acquire legitimacy and the sanction of the Zulu nation for his movement as well as his own person. To achieve this he tried to restore respect for the Zulu hierarchical system during a time when it was collapsing as a result of the disruption of Zulu society by white conquest. He instinctively knew that roles and statuses must be legitimate in the society in which they occur if they are to have moral and jural sanction. Therefore, because Isaiah shembe did not belong to the royal family but received royal standing among his hundreds of thousands of followers he emphasize religious conceptions and ritual institutions of kingship which fulfilled critical integrative functions.
The recognition of Nhlangakazi, the annual pilgrimage and July festival are a grasping back to the Zulu religion and its ancestry. The holy mountain especially with the presentation of the flowers to the ancestors at various places while ascending the mountain, emphasize the significance of the “cloud of witnesses” in this church. Through contact with the numinous power conveyed by the ancestors, the Nazarites or followers of Isaiah Shembe are strengthened.
In this case the effects of the combination of Christian and basic traditional Zulu religious elements lead to quite formidable results. Not only did Jehova and Isaiah meet on the mountain – Jesus is not referred to in this context – but Isaiah Shembe has brought Jehova to his followers and their ancestors together on a holy mountain where they covenant with Jehova and are accepted as Zulus proud of their heritage.
This was so different from the established Christian churches which sought to westernize their flock, i.e. make them strangers to their traditional kith and kin, by discarding traditions of which they should be proud. Londa Shembe was greatly interested in the history of Israel and how these people of the Old Testaments retained their identity. In all this Shembe played a messianic role as far as his followers are concerned. Isaiah Shembe saw himself as a liberator restoring the Zulu kingship in all the glory it had before Boer and Brit destroyed the Zulu nation due to land greed.
In Hymn 68 Jehova and the royal ancestors are mentioned together: “Jehova saved the Nazarites from their enemies” (verse 2) and protected them “with the royal ancestors who have power” (verse 3) and Isaiah Shembe adds: ”
He counselled them at the mountain
He scattered the device
of the schemers
He changed their slavery;
It became kingly authority”
In Hymn 17 Isaiah Shembe blamed the enemies of Jehova for destroying the temporal kingly authority after having destroyed that of the Zulu nation. The restoration of this kingly authority is received on Nhlangakazi, as is undoubtedly stated in Hymn 17. Each of the five verses in this hymn ends with
Wake up, rise up
The first verse in this Hymn says so much that it should be repeated here:
1. “He who is punished is not forsaken
he must not despair
wake up, wake up
Many Africans have had great difficulty in accepting themselves as people who deserve respect and many Zulus have been subjected to humiliation by white overlords. For example, in White South African society Zulu males have often been referred to as “boys” and treated like ignorant people. In their own society they never took orders from women but in White society they were ordered around by White women who often treated them as if they had no status or self-respect. As a result a negative self-image is created which pervades an entire nation.
In this negative context many became fatalistic, accepting that they have no chance of improving their positions. Against this Isaiah Shembe reacted. In
Hymn 17:3 Isaiah Shembe states:
“The enemies of Jehova
rise up against you
wake up, wake up
The enemies of Jehova are those who have destroyed the Zulu nation namely Boer and Brit. But he adds in verse 4:
“Those are bestowed kingly authority
upon the mountain,
Wake up, wake up
The Mount Sinai of the amaNazarites is not only related to Jehova but also to the predominantly non-Christian but now sanctified royal ancestry of the Zulu nation. The Christianity of the Whites rejected them but through Isaiah Shembe Jehova sanctified and accepted them in spite of the fact that they passed away as non-Christians. At the Mount Sinai of the Nazarites the Zulu nation has come into a new relationship with Jehova. Here they drink from the fountain of Sendzangakhona the father of the Zulu nation, Hymn 216:5, and from the rock of Mount Sinai, lulelotshe lasentabeni yase sinayi, Hymn 83:5. Isaiah Shembe is seen here as the mediator for the Zulu nation and not those who want to snatch away the eternal kingly authority. He warns in Hymn 17:5:
“They now want to dispossess you
of eternal kingly authority,
Wake up, wake up
As a result of the mysterious happenings on Nhlangakazi Isaiah Shembe has indeed become the mediator of the Zulu nation. He has the breeding for his position as a Ntungwa, a man of pure Nguni racial stock, from which the Zulu nation originated. Among many Zulu outside his church there were doubts about the ancestry of Isaiah Shembe because he came from the Orange Free State. Some gossips even suggested that he could either be of Sotho or Tswana descent. But, in the Preface to the published book of Hymns Johannes Galilee Shembe, his son and successor states, quite explicitly that he was “the son of Mayekisa, of Nhliziyo, of Nzazela, of Sokhabuzela, of Nyathikazi”, that the Shembes are “Ntungwa of Nhlanzi of Donsa”. Isaiah Shembe was in his very being a Zulu.
7 Commenting on this issue Professor Vilakazi says Johannes Galilee Shembe was “deliberately and unapologetically Zulu”. He adds that the movement has no particular concern for Whites and Indians but is rather meant for “the children of Sendzangakhona.” Thus it may be said that Isaiah Shembe had a never failing sense of supernatural presence.
THE ROLE OF Isaiah SHEMBE IN AMA-NAZARITE RITUAL
Traditional Zulu religion is expressed in ritual rather than dogma. Among the amaNazarites some of the rituals are elaborate, for example, the events on the holy mountain of Nhlangakazi, during the annual January celebrations and the First Fruit Ceremonies held during Christmas period. One such ritual is the u-Fontina ceremony which commences on the evening of the 13th of every month. This is a women’s ritual involving married members of the amaNazarites.
The ceremonies are held at the temples nearest to the amaNazarite settlement where the women live. First, the women assemble at the gate of the settlement dressed in their white robes, known as umNazaretha. Then they form a procession into the settlement singing Hymn 173 which begins:
1. Give way that we enter
that we may serve Jehova.
We had been imprisoned
the gates are now opened
2. Give way that he may enter
oh, here is the Zulu nation
the progeny of Dingaan
Upon arrival at the place of worship the services begin with dancing while singing hymns and beating the drums and blowing the trumpets. These rituals were taught to the women by Isaiah Shembe himself. When the dancing stops, the leader, a deaconess, blesses the dancing women by shouting out “Inkosi inibusise!,” Blessed be the Lord! The congregation responds with a loud: “Amen!”
The second phase is devoted to preaching. Each and every women at the gathering kneels and preaches, one by one, as the “spirit moves them”. No one is debarred from preaching. The service is then closed with a prayer usually on the dawn of the 14th day of the month. During that day all the women work at the settlement from the morning until the afternoon. This labour is done as a sacrifice to uNkulunkulu.
The women assemble again that evening in order to worship God first by dancing and then by preaching and praying. In this service the women testify to the work of Shembe in their lives and seek support from each other in their domestic trials and tribulations. They thank God for the blessings received during the previous month and “give praise to uNkulunkulu Ka Shembe wase Kuphakameni,” the God of Shembe who is at Ekuphakameni.
Isaiah Shembe also introduced an adapted version of the Zulu First Fruits Ceremony into his church. In the traditional context this ceremony has to do with the royal ancestors, amakhosi. Krige described it as “the great festival of the ancestral spirits of the tribe,” the great national festival introducing the new year cycle for the Zulus.
When he introduced his own version of the First Fruits Ceremony as one of the ritual foci of his church, the celebration of Christmas – the festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ – was terminated by Isaiah Shembe.
On the occasion of the First Fruit Ceremonies the prestige of the king, as the representative of the tribe, was revealed in its greatest strength and power, making the celebration the most important ceremony of the Zulu nation. In the 19th century the King of the Zulus put an end to the feast, probably because the ceremony included strangling a black bull and the inspection of soldiers on parade. The original ceremony was divided into two events named the Little Umkhosi which took place about Christmas time and the Great Umkhosi which took place in January; with the first, certain ceremonies and rituals were observed to protect the King from the evil effects of ukusula medicines which were applied to enhance the growth of the crops. The Little Umkhosi is held mainly in order to protect the King from harm which might result from his possible contacts with those who partake of the first fruits without purification.
During the Great Umkhosi the Zulu nation was represented in great numbers at the Kings place housed in a vast camp of grass huts. During January, the same time as the Great Umkhosi used to convene, Isaiah Shembe and his flock gathered at Nhlangakazi in grass huts – most of the huts are now made of canvas and other materials. During the traditional Umkhosi omkulu the King is strengthened with powerful medicines in order to get ascendancy (ukutonya) over his enemies. Various ceremonies and rituals are observed, inter alia, the slaughtering of oxen, after they have been driven past the graves of the Zulu Kings, at the capital of the Zulu people. Here the regiments stand at a distance and shout: “Woza-ke, woza-lapa” or “Come therefore, come thither”. This reminds of the followers of Shembe who shout from a mountain near the Sinai of the iBandla lamaNazaretha, “Come to us, all ye people, let the spirit send you to us”.
The atmosphere created at the Umkhosi is of great significance and thus the brief reference of the ritual which is far more complicated. The main concern is the importance and effects the festival produced on the Zulu life and thus on Isaiah Shembe, who introduced it into his church’s calender. Contact with the metaphysical forces of the Zulu people was a major concern of the Umkhosi Omkulu and thus to kept the cosmic order.
These first fruit ceremonies constitute a sacrament with two roots, namely, eating with the gods or ancestors and eating together. Eating together means possessing together, which in its deepest sense is a demonstration of inner unity. It is a feast of thanksgiving, but in it an anxiety for the new is revealed. The new season is then danced in.
According to Londa Shembe, Isaiah Shembe terminated Christmas ceremonies because the celebration of Christmas involved Black women in menial work for White families. At Ekuphakameni and at the Umkhozi Omkhulu the king called up the ancestors to be present as it would be an impious act for him to presume to celebrate without their presence”. In the same manner the ancestors of the iBandla lamaNazaretha are called up at Nhlangakazi and also at Ekuphakameni. In Hymn 148:4 Isaiah Shembe states:
They have been called out of the graves;
They are already out, we have seen them,
They have entered the holy city
May Jehova be praised.
The graves of the royal ancestors are also visited by the Nazarites during festivals. During the July festival a special visit of the graves at Ekuphakameni takes place. It is here not a question of the biblical resurrection but of continuation into the metaphysical sphere with which there is a symbiotic union. The ancestors are present and Isaiah Shembe himself is present in the person of the leader of the church at the festival.
Just as the Great Umkhosi depended upon a whole series of mystical notions in the iBandla lamaNazaretha also, namely at the Nhlangakazi festival at the holy mountain, the Sinai of this church. And just as the welfare of the Zulu nation was dependent upon the Zulu King and his contacts with the royal ancestors, so too this church depends on the personality of Isaiah Shembe with his numinous power who is their representative among the metaphysical forces.
At the Umkhosi Omkhulu inner social and religious relationships were strengthened. This explains the special role of the ancestors which will be discussed shortly. At the Nhlangakhazi dances of the iBandla lamaNazaretha no westernized outfits are allowed – such as the Scottish Kilts which are worn by a group of males during the July festival. It is the only mountain of Jehova set aside for the Zulu people of the iBandla lamaNazaretha.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EKUPHAKAMENI
The July festival at Ekuphakameni was an effort to bring Zulus into the atmosphere of the lighter side of their religion. This festival witnesses preaching, testimonies, dancing according to age groups, and singing to gain “power.” Bathing takes place in the river, mass baptisms, marriages and holy communions are enacted. Many Zulu were attracted to the feast to be near Isaiah Shembe or his successors and, by implication, Jehova. This is the time of filling up with numinous power the spirit, uMoya. This power is thought of being bound to office and ritual as Hymn 103:4 states:
Send it out Thee alone, Lord,
That servant of yours,
That it may gather and fill up
Through that uMoya (Spirit) of yours.
It is important to note here the metonymic structure of Zulu thought. What is for the westerner symbolism is for the Zulu divine dynamic, or power, itself. The king is the symbol of the tribe’s strength, the author of all zestful living. He is the dynamic centre of the totality. The uZulu in their totality are part of the iZulu (heaven), making a Zulu proud to say singabakwa Zulu, “I am a Zulu”.
Members of the iBandla lamaNazaretha often say, when asked about Jesus: “Jesus is your kind; Shembe is our kind” or “Jesus is a Mlungu, a white man, – He does not understand us”. For Isaiah Shembe Ekuphakameni, the new Jerusalem, and Nhlangakazi, the holy Sinai, were the places of symbolic displacement out of a frustrating situation which utilised the old symbolism of the Zulu nation and of ancient Israel to find a meaningful existence in the present. Even the holy communion, or rather “passover” as it is called, was not unrelated to Zulu custom. Water used for holy communion is fetched from a secret spot by specific members of the church specially assigned to this task. This reminds one of the fact that the water used by the kings and by the nearest of kin was obtained from a special spot which could not be used by anybody else. The sacrament of holy communion is held at night which reminds Zulus of the nocturnal meetings of the traditional Zulu cults.
The religion of Isaiah Shembe is conservative and non-revolutionary, yet it contains the promise of fulfilment in the here and now, as was the case in traditional Zulu religion. There is no waiting upon a future resurrection, for the survival of those passed away and the influence of those who become ancestors make such a postponement both unrealistic and unnecessary.
Here ritual succeeds because the people understand, enjoy and revere it. Through the revitalized Zulu world, which Christianity has helped to reshape, people understand better what the metaphysical world has to give. Not only are the biblical and traditional metaphysical forces venerated in the iBandla lamaNazaretha, but the whole culture with what it signifies has resulted in a dynamism which gives the process a messianic form.
The activities on Nhlangakazi, the mountain of the pentateuch which is described as the “key” to heaven, contributed much to this development. Definite elements of the Zulu religion are highlighted, he emphasized, and given symbolic value through contact with the Christian religion. Isaiah Shembe’s reaction against the social and religious disruption of the Zulu nation was given a cult form in order to give religious meaning to the defense of the Zulu culture as a whole. The past of the Zulu nation has been highlighted by Isaiah Shembe in order to give it a definite dynamic influence on the present. However, this has not led to exclusivism as other sections of the African population in and outside South Africa have joined this church.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ANCESTORS
In traditional Africa religion the deification of ancestors of early centuries, especially those in authority, is a grasping back to the source of everything, a way of maintaining contacts with the supernatural world. Only ancestors who had earthly authority in the family, clan or tribe are believed to have heavenly authority. It is they who determine the destiny of the peoples they once ruled. Thus deceased Chiefs become royal ancestors and in that role determine the destiny of their tribe. Chiefs have a special graveyard which is visited yearly as is the case with the grave of Isaiah Shembe and other church leaders. These places are holy.
The very name of the king or chief is holy. Shaka’s name, although he was a non-Christian, is attached to Indigenous Churches. The name of the king is revered through the custom by which certain names are avoided by certain people. He is called by such names as “father”, “leopard’, “noble elephant,” “thou who are as high as heaven”, “the black one,” i.e. the strong beloved one, etc.” Black is the colour of strength. Black bulls to be slaughtered for the deceased kings, black medicine, ashes used from the meat of a black bull, the king praised as “the black one.” These names are also praise names also for Isaiah Shembe.
Grasping back to the beginning, the hereditary chiefs are called the amakhosi ohlanga, i.e. the chiefs of the reeds. This means that they are lords from the beginning of time. The reference here is to what has been called “the Zulu creation story” which maintains that the Zulu people originated from a bed of reeds. Chiefs in the Zulu society pray at the graveyards of the dead chief called Emakhosini. Since the time of Cetshwayo the Zulu kings and some chiefs have been buried with christian rites even though major Zulu customs have also been maintained.
For the Zulus of Isaiah Shembe’s time especially, no barrier existed between this world and the next; the living and the dead constituted one community which was the very basis of uZulu, Zuluness, which lived under one heaven, iZulu, and whose god was epheZulu or eZulwini, in heaven. Although the outward resistance to Christianity may have been weak, the Umwelt, environment, and the magical, world view are so strong that theological obstacles prevailed in the innermost being of many a Zulu when they became Christians. Isaiah Shembe attempted to overcome this tension by making what is basic in the Zulu world view the determining factor in religious living. Therefore, when the Nazarites confess their faith “in the holy congregation of the Nazarites, and the fellowship of the saints of Nazareth” (Hymn 73:1) they have in mind the living and the dead, the ancestors, or those who have passed on.
ISAIAH SHEMBE’S UNDERSTANDING OF KINGSHIP
Both kings and Zulu diviners mediate between ordinary humans and the ancestors. Kingship as an office among the Zulu is institutionalized. The office of diviner is closer to that of a charismatic leader in the Weberian sense. A person does not choose to become a diviner but is called through election by an ancestral spirit. Both offices, however, have important metaphysical connotations.
The King or chief in Zulu society forms an important link with the spheres of continued existence. He is a political head and mystical or religious figure. In short the King is the divine symbol of the Zulu people’s well-being. He links the nation with the supernatural forces, especially the royal ancestors, who still exercise control over the nation through him. He reflects the highest wishes of the rulers of the nation in the metaphysical world with whom he is in symbiotic union. Special sacrifices and prayers are offered at the graves of the departed Kings during the annual First Fruits Ceremony, Unkhosi Omkhulu. The King is thus holy, i.e. full of numinous power, in a ritual rather than spiritual sense.
The Zulu king is the bridge between the microcosmos and the macrocosmos. He is the expression of the totality and cosmic unity of what is here and what is beyond. The Zulu King is the highest symbol of what is powerful. He is the centre of the ritual. Treason against the King is treason against the whole people because he is the symbol of the unity of the whole tribe and as such sacred. He is the manifestation of the transcendental world.
What is important here is not rational understanding but psychic experience. The King is the symbol of cosmic structure and through him the world and each individual Zulu’s existence are revealed in their totality. Thus the King gives meaning and orientation in the world. It is he who creates cosmos out of chaos.
The position of Isaiah Shembe among the Ama-Nazarites follows this symbolic pattern. Just as the King is central in the metaphysical context of Zulu Kings, Amakhosi, who rule over the continued tribe in the metaphysical world and as the king performs religious ceremonies and magical acts for the Zulu nation during the Festival of First Fruits, Amakhosi Omkhulu, so too Isaiah Shembe acted on behalf of his followers. As the Zulu King was the great medicine man of the Zulu nation on whom they were dependent for their well-being so Isaiah Shembe is both the metaphysical centre of his followers and the great medicine man. This explains the emphasis within Ama-Nazarite congregations on Isaiah Shembe as the mediator between his followers and God, Umvelingqangi.
The King alone represents the genealogy of the Zulu nation and no other person can be its metaphysical centre. So, too, Isaiah Shembe becomes the King of his people representing them to God while at the same time becoming the metaphysical centre of their existence.
At this point it is necessary to discuss the phenomenon of Kingship as depicted in the Hebrew Bible. The institution of Kingship was not well judged in the early books of the Bible. But, the situation changed after Samuel’s anointing of King Saul as a nomadic warrior King in 1 Samuel 9 and 10. Later a very different version of Kingship developed under King David involving a fixed residence and a sacral centre in Jerusalem as can be seen from 2 Samuel 5. These stories made an indelible impression on Isaiah Shembe.
For Shembe the King of Judah had a special charismatic calling from Yahweh which made him a true King. Yahweh adopted the King as son (2 Samuel 7:11; Isaiah 9:5; Psalm 2:7; and 110:1) and gave him a share in His own right to rule. In these stories it was, therefore, not a question of physical descent but a Divine honour to which David had no inherent claim. David’s Kingship therefore rested entirely on the calling of God.
Similarly Isaiah Shembe believed himself called to a spiritual office akin to Kingship. Despite the fact he was a commoner he felt a strong relationship with Zulu royalty and sought a physical relationship with the Zulu royal family. To establish this he gave one of his daughters as a wife to Solomon KaDinaZulu. Yet it was to the ancestors of the Zulu Kings that he felt his closest bond.
In recognition of this he ordained that each January during the annual ritual celebrations at Nhlangakazi the royal ancestors/shades were to be praised by the ama-Nazarites. Most significantly the mode of praise was identical to that used during official ceremonies involving the Zulu King. It is this context of sacred Kingship and Isaiah Shembe’s adoption of a Biblical theology of a divine calling against which we should view Isaiah Shembe understanding of his mission to the Zulu nation.
Isaiah SHEMBE AS A CHARISMATIC KING
Londa Shembe said that what first attracted him to his grandfather was his emphasis on the restoration of the Zulu nation. In this sense Isaiah Shembe started a liberation movement with a strong spiritual bias. For Londa Shembe his grandfather represented a type of Zulu leadership which combined with the office of kingship with that of the traditional Zulu diviner. What was said of Isaiah Shembe could be said of both the diviner and the King.
It is clear in the preface of the Ama-Nazarite hymnal that the glorious Zulu past is to be relived and that long dead Zulu Kings who had become powerful entities in the metaphysical world were to play an important role in the rebirth of the Zulu nation. Yet it is important to recognize that with Isaiah Shembe his claim to Kingship was not a matter of status and influence but of anthropological and soteriological significance. Emphasizing the soteriological aspect of his call he repeats the following verse twice in his hymns:
You are being called Nkosi Solomon
the child of DinuZulu
Here is the glory of Jehova
it is at Ekuphakameni
And later, in Hymn 218.1, the Zulu nation is pictured as standing before the King:
Come ye Zulus
we have seen our Lord
we come from the hereafter
we have seen our king.
The idea of a King coming from the other world is not strange to the Zulu mind as there is a deep sensitive symbiotic union with that sphere. In Hymn 221:3 Johannes Galilee, his son and successor, refers to his father, Isaiah Shembe as “the King of Kings,” the Zulu reads: Nkosi yamakhosi. Isaiah Shembe was therefore the sum and substance of the Church he founded. It is he who will lead the Zulu nation to the promised land as Moses did with the people of Israel. Londa Shembe fully
subscribed to this interpretation of his grandfather’s work and strongly rejected the idea that in Zulu context “Lord of Lords, King of Kings,” the Zulu Nkosi Yamakhosi, refers to God or Jesus. The royal ancestors, amakhosi, play a definite role in the theology of the amaNazarites. In Hymn 37 Isaiah Shembe refers to the royal ancestors in conjunction with the holy mountain of Nhlangakazi in verses 3 and 4:
3. He protected them from their enemies
through the powerful amakhosi.
4. He lifted them up
with the powerful arm
onto the mountain of Nhlangakazi
The numinous power of the royal ancestors, amakhosi, is associated with a most solemn religious ceremony of the Nazarites namely the Festival of the Tabernacles, umkhosi wamadokodo. During this ceremony it is believed that Isaiah Shembe met Jehova and the royal ancestors, amakhosi.
For the ceremony the faithful spend fourteen days on the holy mountain. These are days of healing, sacrifice and prayer. This is an occasion for filling up with inner vital force as was the case with the Zulu people during the Festival of First Fruits, Umkhosi Omkhulu. In Hymn 68 Isaiah Shembe states clearly the relationship between Jehova and the ancestors (amakhosi). After naming the great Kings of the Zulu nation, namely Sendzangakhona, Dingaan, Shaka, Mpande, Cetshwayo and DinuZulu, in Hymn 67 Isaiah Shembe intercedes for them with Jehova asking that their sins may be forgiven. In the later hymns the Kings are addressed as the powerful ones.
Thus in his ritual acts Isaiah Shembe took the ceremonial position of the Zulu King. Just as the King was the reflection of the ancestors, and the combined unity of the Zulu Kings in the metaphysical world, so Shembe is God’s representative to the Zulu nation.
In addition to his claim to Kingship, Isaiah Shembe also had the “death” and “resurrection” experience of a traditional diviner. His calling, accompanied by dreams, was `sealed’ in heaven when he received his ordination. Later the community, the followers, put their seal on his calling in accepting him as their divine leader.
Isaiah SHEMBE AND TRADITIONAL ZULU NAMES FOR GOD
Traditional Zulu religion has no formulated creed or statement of faith. Traditional mythology even leaves western scholars with many unanswered questions. For example, the relationship between uMvelingqangi, an important traditional word used for God, and uNkulunkulu the word for God chosen by a European Bible translator.
In his hymnal Isaiah Shembe used the word uMvelingqangi only once. But his followers often refer to Isaiah Shembe himself as uMvelingqangi. This seems to be because the word has mythical not cultic significance. The suggestion is that the word refers to the one who “came out first” in an early creation myth. In its adverbial use the word means “the first before All.” Significantly, among non-Christian Zulu uMvelingqangi is used to refer to the Creator even today.
In Hymn 93:2 another Zulu word for God, uMvelingqangi, is used in the context of the Nazarite purification rites which also refer to the human being’s recreation. It seems that traditional Zulu could call upon uMvelingqangi without the help of intermediaries which was not the case with uNkulunkulu. Thus, in Hymn 93, which is a praise song, Shembe restored a Zulu designation for God which missionaries had neglected. In doing so Isaiah Shembe identified himself with the beginning, the source, of Zulu mythology.
This implies that the old Zulu purification rites are restored through uMvelingqangi by the ama-Nazarites. The bed of reeds from which the first Zulu was “broken off” was created by uMvelingqangi and the myth is given a new historical significance by Isaiah Shembe. In doing so he adapted aspects of a Biblical theology of creation to Zulu purification rites of re-creation and so modernized traditional beliefs and practices. There is a firm belief among followers that Isaiah Shembe has been called to another people to continue his work of recreation. There was a deep desire with Londa Shembe that the message of his grandfather become the source of the restoration of the Zulu people and of the inhabited world.
In designation uNkulunkulu was utilised by translators of the Zulu Bible translations for the name of God in the creation stories of Genesis 1-3. By contrast Isaiah Shembe always used uMvelingqangi when speaking of the creation of the earth and uNkulunkulu with regard to the creation of human beings and animals. As a result uNkulunkulu as a name for God is used with some ambivalence by many members of the ama-Nazarites. It is a term which Isaiah Shembe seldom used in his hymns and Johannes Galilee Shembe did not use it at all in the hymns he composed.
The problem is that in Zulu mythology uNkulunkulu can be used as a term used for the First Zulu Ancestor. As a result uNkulunkulu is often seen as a lawgiver and associated with ritual prohibitions. This designation can be seen in prayers which speak of God as the all powerful One whom all Zulu worship. Thus He is sometimes referred to as “Wena Unkulunkulu Thixo wethu” which means: “You uNkulunkulu are our God”. Isaiah Shembe used this kind of terminology when called upon uNkulunkulu in Hymn 111 asking Him to remember the Zulu nation. Here Isaiah Shembe refers to God as Nkulunkulu wethu, or “Our Nkulunkulu,” who is called upon to remember the Zulu royal “house of Sendzangakhona.”
In Londa Shembe’s view God came among the Zulu people in the person of Isaiah Shembe. Through Isaiah Shembe God showed that he had remembered the Zulu Nation. This is why it can be said that Isaiah Shembe calls “all ye people to Nkulunkulu”. He is the reflection of the uNkulunkulu of the restored Zulu nation.
At the same time Londa Shembe believed that Isaiah Shembe had revealed “Jehova in all His glory at Ekuphakameni.”  The background to this belief is the fact that in the Zulu Bible Jehova takes a prominent place in the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Biblical story of the giving of the law with the accompaniment of thunder and lightning has many familiar associations for the Zulu mind, the “Lord Above,” and the “Lord of Heaven” in Zulu mythology also acted through these phenomena.
The special Sons, or “Lordsmen of heaven” were not associated with the ancestors. The “Lord of Heaven” spoke through thunder and lightning. No calling back ceremony, ukubuyisa, whereby a deceased person who is the father of a family is called back as a guardian spirit is held for a person struck by lightning. This is because it is believed that the iNkosi ephezulu has taken him. Because Isaiah Shembe himself had revelations through lightning. The Mount Sinai experience of Moses, with the giving of the law accompanied by thunder and lightning, after the mountain had been sanctified (cf. Exodus 19:23), made a deep impression on the traditional Zulu mind. Therefore Isaiah Shembe accepted the Law of the Hebrew Bible and reverted to worshiping on Saturday as a Sabbath.
For him the Mosaic Law was “the key, the gates may be opened,” lingu khiye avulwe amasango. Isaiah Shembe is believed to hold this key on earth for his flock. Through this “key” of the Law he continues to lead them out of the land of bondage.
The liberation of the Jews from Egyptian bondage was a theme which Isaiah Shembe associated with his people. Just as the Jewish liberation was based on religious grounds, so too would be the liberation of the Zulu people. In Hymn 17:3 Isaiah Shembe stated:
The enemies of Jehova rise up against thee,
wake up, wake up ye Africans.
It was at the holy place, Ekuphakameni, the new Jerusalem, that his followers came to praise Jehova through Isaiah Shembe. Thus in Hymn 116.2 Isaiah Shembe declared:
The fame of Jehova is in Ekuphakameni.
In contrast to Isaiah Shembe’s use of Jehova, his son Johannes Galilee Shembe only uses the name once in Hymn 225:1 where he states that Jehova created him.
Londa Shembe believed that through Isaiah Shembe Jehova becomes a God with hands and feet who walked among the Zulu. He explained this by saying that as the Torah, of Jewish law, became the means of mediation between the Jewish people and God so too Isaiah Shembe mediated between God and his people.
For Londa Shembe God was no deus otiosus or a deus incertus but is seen in the life of Isaiah Shembe in His glory and His concern for the people. This is why worshippers at Ekuphakameni exclaimed “Oyingcwele,” He is holy, whenever Isaiah Shembe appeared. For them Isaiah Shembe is the one who revealed the Law of Jehova of which the holy place Ekuphakameni and holy mountain Nhlangakazi are symbols.
In the traditional Zulu context continuous contact with the metaphysical forces is a significant feature of religious belief. The ancestors were mediators between men and God because God’s immediate presence is unbearable to the human being. Thus the task of Isaiah Shembe was to reveal God’s presence among the people.
THE DIVINITY OF ZULU KINGS AND OF Isaiah SHEMBE
Isaiah Shembe never separated himself from the traditions of his people. This can be seen in the various ceremonies observed by the amaNazaretha. His leadership style was that of Zulu royal leadership. In Africa the King or Chief forms an important link with the metaphysical world – in some parts of Africa the king was even deified. The spirits of kings are ruling spirits in the supernatural world and are treated as gods.
In the Zulu context the king was in contact with the royal ancestral spirits but never became a spirit medium. The king was the highest symbol of power in Zulu society. He was the personification of law, the representative of the royal ancestors, and the centre of ritual life.
Krige says “the Chief is the symbol of the unity of the tribe and as such is sacred.” One could thus speak of a form of sacral kingship in Zulu society. The King speaks and acts according to the injunctions of uNkulunkulu and the royal ancestors, not in a mechanical way but in the sense of receiving advice. The King has thus a cosmic meaning.
The King was the only channel through which the amakhosi, or ancestors, could be approached, and he officiated at national sacrificial ceremonies. He was not only physically but also magically strong. Behind his office was the power and force of the ancestors, and as the earthly representative of divine powers he became in the semi-divine central focus of Zulu society.
As such the King was more than an ordinary priest officiating at ceremonies. He represented the harmonious continuity between the cosmic powers. He had the destiny of the country in his hands, and this destiny was equated with his life. On him the tribe depended for rain, good weather, and fertility. To the king the first fruits of the earth were sacrificed at the great annual Umkhosi Omkhulu, or First Fruits Ceremony.
Syncretism of Christianity and the royal cult must have taken place at an early stage among the amaNazarteha. Even though he was not of royal descent Isaiah Shembe performed his leadership role through his contact with Zulu royal ancestors. Yet he was not a medium for these ancestors. In his church the equivalent of the First Fruits Ceremony is the annual July Festival. It consists of days of dancing and singing during which days for prayers and services are alternated. Large amounts of money are presented to the leader of the church to whom confessions are made, problems brought and from whom healing is sought.
The elevation of Isaiah Shembe to divine status is not merely a reaction against the so-called White Christ of the white man but is also an effort to gain, through Isaiah Shembe power, contact with the spirit world. In him the hopes and aspirations of the Zulu are crystallised. The role of redeemer ascribed to Isaiah Shembe is not merely born out of reaction but is a working power, a living contact with the conscious religious and social experience of the Zulu people, who feel the need of maintaining an intimate relationship with the supernatural world which was a real and vivid experience through the king before the white man came. Thus Isaiah Shembe and his church produced its proven stress-reduction techniques in a situation of social disruption in order to restore the social and psychological equilibrium.
Because the king represented “might and power” among the Zulu people. He was specially fortified during the First Fruits Festival with powerful,or so-called black medicines,for fortification which are dangerous to commoners. This process of fortification is known as uKnqunga which means to “invigorate, strengthen, fortify by medical charms, make callous, fearless.”
At the Great Umkhosi the King purified himself at the river, in which ashes from the holy vessel had been thrown. Further down the river the soldiers also washed in this sacred water which had passed over the King.
When the king is strengthened or fortified he remains in seclusion in a special hut described as eya’emsizini. The same hut is used for this purpose every year. This special hut could only be entered by the king, his doctor, and his mother, and only during special occasions..
These rituals are reproduced in a new form among the amaNazarites. At Ekuphakameni there was Isaiah Shembe’s hut which he entered on special occasions and which only Johannes Galilee his son and successor could enter after his death. On the sacred mountain of Nhlangakazi there is a special hut away from that of other people for the leader.
The Zulu kings regalia are believed to possess mana or supernatural power and are kept in the sacred hut. Similarly, in Isaiah Shembe’s hut, holy vessels, the holy drum, and secret scriptures kept. The sacred objects of the king are used during ritual occasions, while those of Isaiah Shembe were used during the January festival at Nhlangakazi, which has become the Mount Sinai of the amaNazaretha. Even Isaiah Shembe’s staff has a prototype in the chief’s sacred stick, or induku yomuzi, which together with the assegai, plays a role in the First Fruits Ceremonies. There are other symbols at Ekuphakameni which should also be mentioned. The memorial is reminiscent of the ink’atha, or sacred coil, a most significant holy article of the tribe symbolizing tribal unity. The circular form of the ink’atha is said to have “the power of collecting up all traitors and disaffected subjects and joining them together with the rest of the nation in affection of the King”.
Isaiah Shembe’s position is for the members of the iBandla lamaNazaretha unassailable even by the Zulu Kings or anyone coming after him, although the members would not even highlight this in their actions. They have in general a good relationship with the Zulu royal family and especially the King. The African personality cult, where the chief is the sum and substance of the whole community and the headman the very self of the village, demands personalities like that of Isaiah Shembe in the acculturation process.
The social solidarity within the iBandla lamaNazaretha is of a high quality. The Zulu kingship and other symbols have been highlighted. Here is traditional symbolism explained in the light of acculturated symbolism. These symbols serve as a means of escape, of symbolic displacements from frustrating situations. For this symbolic forms are used in ritual and ceremony, song and drama, dance and sacrifice at special holy places. This symbolic displacement ties in with Christian eschatology to become a realized eschatology undergirded by a concept of time which concentrates on the here and now rather than on the there and then.
Isaiah Shembe began his religious pilgrimage as a Methodist, he gained an African Baptist background and ended up creating a dynamic indigenous church in which he proclaimed the Old Testament Sabbath as the “Key” to heaven. This “holy” day with its ritual prohibitions became the binding factor of the church.
Through Isaiah Shembe a point of crystallization has been reached for a large section of the Zulu people, who were fast losing their unity and even identity in a pressing situation. The contact culture violently shocked the Zulu nation and they lost their prestige among the tribes of South Africa. The Zulus blamed the contact culture for the disturbances of what they considered to be a meaningful way of life. They ascribed their plight to the neglect of the admonitions of their ancestors. While both the Zulu religion and the amaNazarites have no codified confession, the difference is that the Shembe movement has a founder and a book. Both traditionalists and members of the ama-Nazarites believe in the harmony of the natural and the supernatural. This means that the tradition of the forefathers should be maintained to avoid bad fortune and that Shembe shows how this can be done in the modern world.
In these circumstances Isaiah Shembe appeared on the scene as a man of destiny, having himself undergone “personality transformation dreams”. Destiny dreams took hold of him and he firmly believed that he had a messianic calling to the Zulu people. He has developed from a prophet into a messiah as seen in one of his last Hymns 214:1:
we the progeny of Dingaan
we have heard him, he has arrived.
The liberator has arrived.
The liberator has now arrived !
ye Zulus we have heard him.
What Isaiah Shembe has brought forward is different from both Christianity and the Zulu religion. It is not merely a question of fusion or mixing, but a process much more complicated in which both Christianity and the Zulu religion are dynamically modified.
To explain this kind of process British anthropologist Malinowski relates how in a dilapidated African section in Johannesburg he once witnessed a divining performance carried out by a Zulu diviner, a Methodist prayer meeting, young men preparing for an initiation ceremony, an African “board and pebble game” played for European money, a bicycle from Japan, and dress objects from India, English, German and American tailors.
For the superficial observer, states Malinowski, these activities and objects will naturally fall into their respective European and African categories. However, he rightly maintained that in this complex situation a new type of African has developed with a new outlook on the European and African culture. What was true in that case is true of the religious doctrine of the Church of the Nazarites. Not only has Shembe’s personality undergone transformations, but so have his approaches to the traditional Zulu and Christian religions. Isaiah Shembe has established in the process a new approach to Christianity, the result of selective conservatism in which everything is explained from traditional Zulu beliefs and practices. In the process the Zulu structure itself has changed and a dynamic process which will continue has begun.
The book you are about to read contains an inspired rendition of the sacred scriptures of this remarkable movement. It was written in English by Londa Shembe who, by authority of his divine calling, did not simply “translate” the Zulu but rather provided an inspired and by definition, due to his status, authoritative version of the text. To non-Zulu readers many references and commandments will appear very strange. But, then one must remember that many parts of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Koran appear strange to the uninitiated.
1 The title “Right Reverend” was the one Londa Shembe thought most appropriate for his position within his church. He also allowed Europeans to call him “Prophet” although he cautioned that this designation did not do justice to his true status among the Zulu and preferred to be called “the Third Shembe.”
2 The two major Ama-Nazarite groups are discussed in the Introduction by Irving Hexham.
3 For a full discussion of the nature of this document see the Introduction by Irving Hexham.
4 For example Professors Karla Poewe, Irving Hexham and Hans-Jürgen Becken.
5 G.C. Oosthuizen, The Theology of a South African Messiah, Leiden, Brill, 1967.