Shembe Pilgrimage – A Spiritual Experience amongst the Zulu

The diversity of South Africa knows no boundaries and the closer visitors look at the country and its people, the more they see and discover. 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 be had. The Shembe Pilgrimage welcomes visitors on their road of praise and worship, and members are happy to share their beliefs and traditions with tourists and inquisitive minds.

Most of the members of the Shembe Church are Zulu and their church is located on a sacred site called Ekuphakameni, which is translated to mean ‘Place of Spiritual Upliftment’. Named by the founder of the Shembe Church, Isaiah Shembe, he was also the first to complete the Shembe Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain (Nhlangakazi), as he was summoned to the mountain by God in 1916. It is said that God spoke to Isaiah Shembe as he did with Moses at Mount Sinai. Ekuphakameni is also home to the most sacred shrines and is where holy water is kept for ceremonies.

The Shembe religion is a combination of Zulu culture and Christianity that has been based on the old testament of the Bible. Sticks that have always been seen as a weapon are now used for healing and the entire Shembe culture rests on teachings of peace and healing. They also practice fasting periods and sacred acts such as the washing of each others’ feet. Traditional Zulu dances have also been integrated in the religion and as a church they have many festivals and pilgrimages throughout the year. The most colorful 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.

The pilgrimage takes three days to travel the eighty kilometers from Ebhohleni to Nhlangakazi. 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.