A photo-essay of the Thembe Religion in Eastern Cape, South Africa. The diversity of this beautiful land is boundless and as you take a closer look at our country and its people, the more we seem to u
Eastern Cape, South Africa
Bazil Raubach, picture essay
The diversity of our fine and beautiful land is boundless and as you take a closer look at our country and its people, the more we seem to uncover. South Africa is a treasure trove of fascinating experiences and unexplored beauty. When it comes to tribes and religion, there are certainly many diverse experiences to explore.
On the road to Mthatha, no more than a couple of a kilometre outside Dutywa in the old homeland of the Transkei is a couple of white stones on verge of the highway. Unless pointed out you wouldn’t notice them, I in fact did not until we bumped our way up the sandy, poorly smoothed road.
Beyond the turnoff is one of the compounds of the Thembe religion. While quite extensive it in fact is habited by only one man, a high priest if you will. The other structures are split into three zones. One for the women, one for the men and then one larger structure where in the priest seems to live. Oh it was mentioned if a women wishes in instigate a liaison with a man there is a structure for that too but I do not know any of those details as the compound layout was whispered to me.
Some interesting facts, the amaNazarites of Isaiah Shembe are the oldest African Independent/Indigenous Church in South Africa. Shembe members are happy to share their beliefs and traditions with tourists and inquisitive minds. The Internet had some interesting stories of their recruitment practises.
The Shembe religion is a combination of Zulu culture and Christianity that has been based on the old testament of the Bible. The most colourful Shembe Pilgrimage that is attended by tourists, takes place at the beginning of every year, and is known as the Shembe Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain.
Wearing pure white robes, the members of the Shembe Church walk along the path to the Holy Mountain singing praises. Once at the mountain, the followers perform worshipping dances and reflect on their religion and beliefs. It is a rare opportunity to become a part of the culture in South Africa, and experience a pilgrimage of religious praise.
The Shembe Pilgrimage is also one of the few chances visitors will get to be able to partake in and explore such a sacred ceremony.
The prayer area is cordoned off from the rest of the compound and further segregated. The men to onside, the women on the other. The oldest women sits ahead of the other women who seem staggered according to their ages and status in the community.
Menstruating women and widows are outside the fenced off and gated prayer area, and young girls are on the extreme side with girls about to enter or already in puberty covered in white shrouds, everyone wears white smocks.
Some cameo moments stayed in my mind. A young teenager checking his MXIT (a facebook type issue) on his cellphone while the priest was talking. A shy smile from one of the little girls covered head to foot in a white cover. The stern disapproving face of the senior matron sitting a couple feet ahead of the other women as she glared at me for daring to bring photographic equipment to the ceremony. The mischievous glint and genuine smile of the priest as her heard the prayer request from an older women in the congregation. The almost silent chuckle as their shared a private joke. All while the midday sun beat down onto my bare head and the cool African breeze meandered amongst us bring the smell of Africa and the occasional slow sonorous sound of cattle near by.
There are Old Testament, Jewish aspects and African traditional religion juxtaposed everywhere in this religion. A side note - their current leader is SHEMBE, Mbusi Vimbeni (27 April 1933-): the successor of Bishop Amos Shembe and current leader of the major branch of the amaNazarites with over one million followers, most of whom are Zulu. During a portion of the service, the priest of this service passed over an image Mbusi Vimbeni, taken at their annual pilgrimage. An old man in white captured in a Messiah like pose out of the silver Ranger Rover Sport’s sunroof, blessing his followers. A vehicle I might like to add, favoured by the current ruling elite.
The religion is essential a Zulu affair but it is growing and moving out to encompass the rest of Southern Africa.
In Africa white men have watches, but African men have the time’