SERENE SCENES AT EKUPHAKAMENI AS SHEMBE CLOSES JANUARY FESTIVAL
The annual January festival of the Shembe Church at Ekuphakameni came to a jubilant end on the weekend of Sunday 30 January 2022. The festival was brought to a close in prayer and dance in a huge ceremony attended by an estimated 20 000 people by the Churches charismatic leader His holiness Inkosi V.V Shembe or Incoyincoyi as he is more affectionately known by the Shembe church’s devotees.
A story published by Zulu Newspaper ISOLEZWE on Sunday morning seemed to suggest that the church’s leader was missing however this was in contrast to the events that unfolded yesterday at Ekuphakameni. Inkosi V.V Shembe was present at Ekuphakameni which suggests that these reports of him missing are false.
One of the senior pastors and spokesperson at Ekuphakameni Mdumiseni Vezi commented and said “I don’t know, I cannot control what papers write but as you can see, his holiness is with us, he has always been.” “There are a lot of politics in this church so treat some stories as a political expose on the run up to an elective conference” Vezi concluded.
Ekuphakameni is the headquarters of one of the many Shembe groups. It does however hold a special place as it was built by the founder Nkosi Isiah Shembe in 1914 and it is where he was laid to rest.
ABOUT THE JANUARY SHEMBE FESTIVAL
The Festival kicks off on the afternoon of the first of January where thousands of Shembe followers gather at the gates of Ekuphakameni and sing “Sidedele Singene” which means allow us to enter. They enter the gates and make their way to the mausoleum sites where the great fathers of the church (past leaders) rest.
These include the founder of the church the His Holiness Inkosi Isiah Shembe or Bhombela (great train) as he is affectionately known, his successor Inkosi J.G Shembe and his grandson Nkosi L.N Shembe. At this site, a prayer lead by Nkosi V.V Shembe was held and the thousands of Shembe congregants were blessed.
They soon make way to their dwellings within the village of Ekuphakameni where they prepare for the annual pilgrimage to Nhlangakazi mountain.
PILGRIMAGE TO NHLANGAKAZI HOLY MOUNTAIN
At around 04:00 on 02 January 2020, Shembe pilgrims gather at the mausoleums at Ekuphakameni awaiting word from their leader to give his blessing as they depart to Nhlangakazi Mountain. The journey from Ekuphakameni to Nhlangakazi mountain is a 50km long journey which they make on foot over 3 days.
This is to fulfill a vow to God made by His Holiness Inkosi Isiah Shembe more than a century ago in January 1913. It is foretold that Shembe met with God on top of the mountain and vowed to bring God’s people before him on top of the same mountain every January.
Shembe devotees brave the scorching sun and heavy summer rains and thunderstorms on top of the mountain for 2 full weeks praying, dancing and generally making the mountain their temporary home for that period. At the end of that period, they make way back to Ekuphakameni on foot again.
BACK AT EKUPHAKAMENI
Back at Ekuphakameni, the festivities of dance continued for the remainder of the month of January. Multitudes of congregants descend on the churches headquarters in Ekuphakameni in Inanda to attend the Shembe dance festival or Umgidi under the spiritual stewardship of His Holiness V.V Shembe (Incoyincoyi).
Umgidi is held almost every weekend on Sundays and congregants as per the teachings of Mqaliwendlela, His Holiness Prophet Isaiah Shembe. The Shembe dance is a very graceful and elegant Nguni type dance that starts with slow paced upward and downward movement of the arms and feet. The movement of the arms and feet are in a synced downwards and upwards motions that is informed by the rhythm and beat of the drums and the sound of the trumpet called Imbomu.
As the pace of imbomu and the drums picks ups, so too does the pace of the hands and feet and this is done until a high intense pace is reached, the dance climaxes and then it settles down again and the pace slows down again, this is done again and again until the dance ends. It is a breath-taking Jazz like sound that is unique, one that can be described as one of the most authentic Zulu sounds.
CONCLUSION TO THE FESTIVITIES
The festivities come to a serene and heavenly end when Nkosi V.V Shembe raises his hand and all the drums, trumpets and dancing seizes. “Thank you, may God bless you” the leader says and a defeaning roar of “Amen, he is holy” erupts from the thousands of Shembe congregants in attendance and that brought the festival of this very enigmatic Shembe church to a close.