Shembe Festival

Shembe Festival

First day in July to the last Sunday
The Shembe Festival, named for Isaiah Shembe (c. 1870-1935), the sect's founder, is one of three annual festivals observed by the Nazareth Baptist Church (Church of the Ama Nazaretha). It takes place at the Ematabetulu village near Inanda, South Africa. The other two are the October festival, observed at Judia near Ginginglovu, and the January festival observed on Inhlangakazi Mountain. All aspects of worship, ritual, dress, and festivals were established by Shembe in 1911. The church's beliefs are a mixture of pagan, Old Testament, and Christian ideas.
The July Festival is the most popular of the three, and church members come from all over South Africa to attend it. Some live in temporary encampments for the festival, which begins on the first day of July and ends on the last Sunday. Throughout this period there are alternate days of dancing and rest. The sacred dancing that takes place on the final Sunday usually draws large numbers of spectators. Other activities during the festival include sermons by a variety of preachers, testimonies by church members, and prayer for the sick.
The men and women dance separately, and their costumes vary considerably. The two male groups of dancers, for example, are the Njobo and the Iscotch. The Njobo, who are mostly older men, wear traditional Zulu dress, as do the female groups. But the younger male dancers of the Iscotch group wear a long white smock with a tasseled hem over a black pleated kilt, a white pith helmet, black army boots with black-and-white football socks, and a light green tie bearing icons of the prophet Shembe and other church leaders.
The dances, which can last an entire day, involve rows of 50 or more dancers, each of which takes its turn at the front and then gradually works its way to the back, allowing those who tire to leave the group without being noticed.
CONTACTS:
South African Tourism Board
500 Fifth Ave., Ste. 2040, 20th Fl.
New York, NY 10110
800-822-5368 or 212-730-2929; fax: 212-764-1980
www.southafrica.net
SOURCES:
AnnivHol-2000, p. 126
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 422
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 159