By Kim Ludbrook
Mayesweni, South Africa, Jan 26 (EFE).- On a hilltop in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, thousands of members of the Nazareth Baptist Church gather for their annual pilgrimage.
Known as the Nhlangakazi Holy Mountain, this sacred site is also the culmination of a 50km journey these predominantly Zulu pilgrims have made by foot, some coming from as far as the city of Durban, on South Africa’s east coast.
After walking barefoot up the hill for the final leg of their trip, the pilgrims gather on the holy hilltop, the sound of their soothing hymns carrying through the breeze as they sit in prayer.
Clad in flowing white robes, approximately 20,000 members of the church walk through the lush green of the Valley of a Thousand Hills to reach Nhlangakazi, depositing stones wrapped in grass and flowers as offerings to their ancestors and to pray for spiritual cleansing for the year to come.
The religious migration also provides an opportunity for young children from the remote villages dotted along the route to sell flowers to the pilgrims for their offerings.
Entire families, including young children, join the three-week journey through the rolling hills of the sparsely populated valley.
Exposed to the elements, the pilgrims have to be prepared for all kinds of weather as shelter can be hard to come by in this rural part of South Africa.
They come at the start of the year to spend a week at the foot of the sacred hill, creating a temporary village of tents on the mountain side during their stay.
The pilgrims revere the church’s founder, evangelist Isaiah Shembe, as a prophet and African messiah, who said he was contacted by the Holy Spirit on the summit of Nhlangakazi over a century ago.
Shembe gained his reputation as a gifted preacher and saw his following grow during the early years of the Union of South Africa – the predecessor to the modern day republic – which imposed harsh segregation laws, including suppressing black people’s right to vote.
The church’s beliefs are a unique blend of Zulu customs and Christian tradition, with Shembe’s teachings combining with an emphasis on the biblical Ten Commandments and other aspects of the Old Testament, such as the Sabbath being observed on Saturdays and the prohibition of “unclean” foods such as pork and chicken, among others.
Beneath their shimmering white robes, the pilgrims sport icons of tribal Zulu culture, such as ankle chains and animal bracelets, while many also carry a traditional staff to help them on their long journey. EFE