Nazarite Women’s Rituals


If it were not for the Inspirational Sounds Gospel Choir being banned from the McKenzie Bridge Christian Church, I would never have become a Nazarite. A day ago Marilyn told me a good story that I can’t repeat.

My old secular friends are not happy when I got religion. They think I am trying to be better than they. It is required in the Twelve Steps of AA that I seek a higher power. Nazarite abstain from alcohol. That was the desired goal. I am 30 years sober.

Marilyn took me to see Black Orpheus when she was fifteen. Before we exchanged words, I believe she made it her task to render me a religious human bein. I dance the Bolero for her. M told me about the rituals she was subjected to upon reaching puberty. The Mexican girls in the hood, did her hair, and put their make-up.

South Africa is home to two dances that are sweeping the world, the Kizomba, and the Pantsula.

John Presco

Durban – A group of Zulu maidens who took part in last week’s Royal Reed Dance have rubbished the idea of opening the annual festival to other races, saying this would dilute the value of the ceremony.

The young women also accused King Goodwill Zwelithini of giving preferential treatment to Indian and white maidens while paying scant attention to people who had been the backbone of the event since it was revived 29 years ago.

This comes after the king and an Indian politician and businessman announced during the ceremony at Enyokeni Palace in Nongoma, Zululand, last week that the annual festival would be opened to all races.

The young women, members of the Nomkhubulwane Culture and Young Development Organisation in Pietermaritzburg, said the ceremony was their way of communicating with their ancestors, but other races were taking part in the festival for fun. They said they were contemplating pulling out of the event if Indian and white girls, who did not understand its significance, were allowed to take part.

Another African Nazarite

In reading this text I believe Johanwa Owalo was a Nazarite of John, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Did he influence Shembe of the Zulu Nazarites? There is some conflict with the spirit of Jesus over his reign, as if John the Baptist has returned in spirit to reclaim his rightful place.

Jon the Nazarite

The great Kenyan Prophet, Johanwa Owalo, the founder of Kenya’s Nomiya Luo Church, and who among the Kenya people of the Luo religion is believed to be a prophet similar to Jesus Christ and Muhammad, and who in 1912 made this horrific prophecy about the United States:
“So far have they [the United States] strayed into wickedness in those [future] times that their destruction has been sealed by my [father]. Their great cities will burn, their crops and cattle will suffer disease and death, their children will perish from diseases never seen upon this Earth, and I reveal to you the greatest [mystery] of all as I have been allowed to see that their [the United States] destruction will come about through the vengeful hands of one of our very own sons.” [1]

The Black Doll Of La La Land

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Review of Black Panther

You don’t have to invite me to a costume ho-down – but once! When I saw black folks dressed in African regalia on the news, I had to get me some. All I had was a pillowcase to my safari sleep-set. I draped it over my shoulder, and…….Wah-Lah Wakanda!

“Wakanda, here I come! Just me, and my regal self.”

Being born in Oakland, need I say the opening of Black Panther was my favorite part.

“Oakland 1992”

Well done, sir! However, the scene on the barge, stank, then sunk! These gorgeous women began to move their bodies in a dull and ho-hum manner. I glanced over at my umbrella to make sure it was in plain sight when I make a quick exit. Right away, I became aware of the camera, the director, the whole crew is thinking ‘Jigaboo’.

“Let’s not overdo it. Let’s be safe and make the dance number short and sweet. We don’t want to alianante the few white folks in the audience. Best show more black strongman cage fighting scenes. ”

An annual commemoration of his daughter becomes customary in Israel, which seems to imply that an exceptional event took place. Consigning his daughter to be a Nazirite, or perpetual virgin, or any other such thing, would not seem to be significant enough to warrant a 4-day national observance every year. The nature of the commemoration implies a more extreme outcome for her, such as being offered as a burnt offering.

Book Review

Rituals of Fertility and the Sacrifice of Desire:
Nazarite Women’s Performance in South Africa

Rituals of Fertility and the Sacrifice of Desire: Nazarite Women’s Performance in South Africa. By Carol Ann Muller. (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. [xxiv, 316 p. + 1 CD-ROM. ISBN 0-226-54820-1. $26.]

In 1910, the black South African prophet Isaiah Shembe formed what is today one of South Africa’s oldest and largest indigenous religious groups, the ibandla lamaNazaretha (Church of the Nazarites), now a million strong. By appropriating, reinventing, and fusing aspects of Western mission Christianity and Nguni custom and cosmology, Shembe forged a body of cultural and religious truth that, in a particularly repressive and debilitating social, economic, cultural, and political environment, his followers found empowering and affirming.

In this insightful, sophisticated ethnography, Carol Ann Muller focuses particularly on the experiences and ritual practices of female Nazarites. In lucid prose lightened with touches of humor, she addresses contemporary theoretical concerns in anthropology and ethnomusicology as well as in gender, religious, and African studies. Neither apologetic nor self-righteous, she reflexively addresses her complex positioning in South African society with regard to the Nazarite community, establishing an authorial voice that is confident without being arrogant and imbued with respect for her subjects.

Structured from the general to the particular, the book moves from an historical analysis of ibandla lamaNazaretha, though a broad overview of Nazarite religious culture and expressive forms, to an in-depth analysis of the ritual practices of young virgin girls and married women. Muller explains the rise of Isaiah Shembe and the establishment of his religious empire as a response to the sociopolitical struggles and suffering of Zulu peoples at the hands of the mythical Shaka and his descendants, Afrikaner trekkers, and British colonists. In the early twentieth century, Shembe provided material, economic, cultural, and spiritual alternatives for his followers, many of whom were particularly disaffected by societal upheaval: orphans, widows, wives ejected from polygamous households, and those dispossessed of their land. Muller analyzes the hybrid set of religious and cultural practices established by Shembe in relation to space, time, and ritual attire–parameters that defined the boundaries of the Nazarite community through clear, ritualized distinctions between self and other, purity and pollution, cyclicity and linearity.

The two primary forms of Nazarite worship are (1) inkhonzo, the structured liturgical service incorporating hymns, and (2) religious dance, known as ukusina. Muller highlights rhythmic complexity as the definitive element of Nazarite musical style, particularly in dance contexts. Her description and explanation of a particular ukusina performance, based on a framework outlined by an “insider” field assistant, provides one of the best in-depth analyses of Zulu music presently available. She also examines the poetics of Nazarite hymns and the effects of musical innovation, such as the introduction of organ accompaniment, and she discusses important recent developments, particularly the advent of youth choirs performing gospel-style compositions and the commercial recording of Nazarite hymns.

Muller devotes the final and largest section of the book to the central role of women in ibandla lamaNazaretha, focusing specifically on the dependence of the whole community on female moral and ritual purity. Analysis of two Nazarite rituals performed by young female virgins demonstrates how the merging of precolonial Nguni fertility rites for young girls with the biblical story of Jephthah harnesses physical fertility for the physical and moral reproduction of the Nazarite order. Abstinence from sexual desire by young girls is seen to protect the religious community from pollution, particularly that caused by struggle with the state over land ownership. Shembe purified the pollution of older women’s sexuality caused by marriage by interpreting Nazarite marriage (a fusion of precolonial Nguni and European Christian matrimonial constructs) simultaneously as social, physical wedlock between humans and spiritual union between himself and Nazarite women. Muller concludes this section with an examination of married women’s testimonies about the power of Shembe in their lives as expressed through hymn singing…

6. It was necessary that a woman that was devoted to be a Nazarite (for a women might be a Nazarite, Numbers 6:2), that she should thenceforward avoid marrying, and refrain from all carnal intercourse with men. If she was a virgin when she was devoted, it was necessary that she should continue a virgin till her vow was ended; and if she was devoted for her whole life, she must continue a virgin forever. And if she was a widow, she must continue in her widowhood, and that on two accounts.

(1) Marrying would be contrary to the obligation, that has been taken notice of, that the Nazarite was under, with the utmost strictness avoid all legal defilements, for marrying unavoidably exposed to great legal impurities, and of long continuance. See Leviticus 12. There were scarcely any legal impurities to which the children of Israel were exposed, excepting the leprosy, that were so great as those that marriage brought women into. Being therefore devoted to God, to be holy to the Lord in the utmost possible legal purity, she must avoid marrying. And then those legal impurities rendered her incapable of those sacred offices and services that she was devoted to. It incapacitated her from conversing in holy things, or drawing near to God in ordinances, as much as being defiled by the dead body of a man incapacitated a priest from his work and office. Leviticus 12:4, “And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary till the days of her purifying be fulfilled,” which, in all, for a son made up forty days, and for a daughter fourscore days, which must needs be very inconsistent with the circumstances of the Nazarite, that was devoted wholly to attend on God and holy exercises in the way of the Jewish ordinances. If the Nazarite were a male, his marrying did not expose him to such legal impurities. The Nazarite was to observe as strict a legal purity as the high priest himself, as has been observed; but he, for the greater purity, was allowed to marry none but a virgin. Therefore doubtless the woman herself, that was a Nazarite, was obliged to continue a virgin. See how some things were required in the law of Moses by consequence, though not expressly, in my papers of “Infant Baptism.”

(2) Marrying would utterly destroy the main design of her being dedicated in the vow of a Nazarite, which was, that she might be wholly devoted to the more immediate service of God in sacred things. If she was married, her time must unavoidably be exceedingly taken up in secular business and cares, in tending and bringing up children, and in providing for and taking care of a family, which exceedingly fills married women’s hands and hearts, and is as inconsistent as possible with the design of the vow of the Nazarite. Hence the women that were devoted to the special service of God’s house in the primitive church (though not devoted to God so solemnly, nor in so great a degree, as the Nazarite), must be one that was not married, and never like to marry; and it was looked upon and spoken of by the apostles as sinful in such to marry. 1 Timothy 5:11, “But the younger widows refuse; for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry.” And the reason that is given why they should be widows, that were like ever to continue so, and free from all worldly care, was that they might be the more entirely at liberty for religious duties. 1 Timothy 5:3–5, “Honor widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents, for that is good and acceptable before God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.” Those widows in the primitive church seem to be, in some degree, in imitation of the Nazarites in the Jewish church. Anna the prophetess was in all probability a Nazarite, or one that, after her husband’s death, had devoted herself to the service of God by such a vow as that we have been speaking of, and therefore continued in widowhood to so great an age, because her vow obliged her to it. And therefore she, throwing by all worldly care, devoted herself wholly to the immediate service of God. Luke 2:36–37, “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. She was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers, night and day,” the like expression with that that the Apostle uses concerning widows (1 Timothy 5:5).

And therefore,9 when we have an account that after Jephthah’s daughter had been let alone two months, to go up and down the mountains with her companions to bewail her virginity, that she returned to her father, who did to her according to his vow. That which Jephthah did was this: he took her up to the sanctuary before the Lord, and presented her before the priest, that he might estimate her, and then paid according to his estimation (Thus the Jews that came out of the captivity vowed that they would offer the firstborn of their sons, Nehemiah 10:36.), whereby she was redeemed from being made a burnt sacrifice, according to the law. And by thus presenting her in the sanctuary, and offering up that which [was] accepted instead of her blood, she was actually separated according to the vow. Her separation began from that time, and thenceforward she was to begin her strict abstinence from all legal impurities, and to spend her time in sacred offices. And ’tis probable that Jephthah thenceforward left her in the sanctuary, to dwell there as long as she lived, as Hannah did to her son Samuel, whom she had devoted to be a Nazarite. 1 Samuel 1:22, “I will not go up till the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide forever”; and as the other Hannah, or Anna, did with herself after she had devoted herself to perpetual widowhood as a Nazarite, of whom we read, Luke 2:37, that she was widow of fourscore years old, and “departed not from the temple.” And there probably Jephthah’s daughter continued in supplications and prayers night and day, for she was eminently disposed and prepared for such duties by that remarkable spirit of piety that appeared in her, by her resignation with respect to the vow her father had made concerning her. And what time she did not spend in duties of immediate devotion, she might spend in making of priests’ garments (Exodus 35:25–26), or in other business subservient to the work of the sanctuary, as there might be enough found that a woman might do.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to Nazarite Women’s Rituals

  1. Reblogged this on Rosamond Press and commented:

    Love this post.

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