We seem to spend many words and paragraphs on this blog reporting on the negative impacts on our rivers that result from a lack of Hlonipha – Respect – for the rivers. I think I (Penny Rees) speak for the entire Mayday for Rivers team when I say that it is thus always wonderful to meet others who also respect and revere our rivers.
We (the Mayday for Rivers Team) had met Shembe Prophet Father Ndlovu during a river walk and he had invited us to todays ceremony, one of many that the Shembe members hold at a various different waterfalls, as all rivers and waterfalls are considered sacred. Our only instructions were for Pandora and I to wear white skirts which are a sign of respect to Inkosazane Nomkhubulwane, the Earth Mother, symbolized in rivers, mist, rain and rainbows.
I don’t think I’d make a good Boy Scout. Be Prepared. I certainly wasn’t this morning, but then how many Boy Scouts would know how to prepare for a Shembe River Ceremony? When you are used to bashing along a river with a backpack and in boots and (almost) bramble proof teesav longs, it comes as a shock to the system to be sans boots and enveloped in a long skirt to which every bramble thorn attaches itself like a leech.
After this mornings stunning sunrise we had met up with around 30 Shembe members as they were making their way to the waterfall. Negotiating a barbed wire fence in a skirt was a new challenge, and we watched in awe as the group wound their way down the steep slope to the river in “town clothes” carrying a variety of items on their heads and in their hands – containers, large wooden platters, packets of food and small bags.
Reaching the river, Father Ndlovu and a couple of others went ahead up stream whilst everyone else took off their shoes and disappeared behind large boulders and makeshift screens to change, thereafter sitting on the rocks and gently singing haunting hymns, after which we were summonsed, and leaving everything on the river rocks, the river bed was soon dotted with white cloaked figures making their way to the foot of the waterfall. What a joy to scramble up the river with nothing other than my trusty walking stick that has been with me on many an adventure. No back pack, no kit nor equipment…….
Barefoot and skirted, Pandora and I negotiated the rocks and I was glad that apart from river walks and going into the middle of town, I habitually seldom wear shoes. Nearing the water fall, the women stayed in a group as all the men went forward, one by one disappearing behind the rocks at the foot of the waterfall. I began to wonder if this was a “men only” situation – I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Soon the women surged forward in a group as the men emerged from the foot of the falls, soaking wet and shivering, yet exuding a sense of complete peace. Father Ndlovu stood in the spray of the falls, and as each person approached him, they knelt down one by one, acknowledging Nkosazane Nomkhubulwane, after which Father blessed each person before they moved under the falls, to sit quietly in contemplation and prayer as the water poured over them, cleansing body and soul.
Returning to our bags downstream, after everyone had changed and begun to warm up, a feast was produced: chicken, ribs and Jeque (that divine steamed Zulu bread) were washed down with cold drinks and the meal rounded off with an array of muffins, cream cakes and other delights.
A beautiful hymn was sung, and then after a cleanup which left not a scrap of refuse at the river, the long trek up the hill and to home began. Aside from the path that will soon grow closed, there will be no sign left of the dignified, respectful ceremony that took place here today.
A different Mothers Day – an Earth Mothers Day reflecting on Mother Earth and Nkosazane Nomkhubulwane; the sense of community and respect that we all shared today and the Fellowship of our Rivers.