Nongqawuse Seeks the Return of the Gods

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Humans Long for Their Heavenly Counterpart.

In 1921, Simon Kimbangu (1889?–1951) healed the sick and raised the dead among the Kongo people in Central Africa. In 1700, in Sudan, a woman whose name was Quay mysteriously became pregnant and bore a son, Kejok, who grew to manhood in a few months and performed miracles. Years later, in 1921, it was said that he had risen from the dead and would bring his people an era of wealth and happiness. In Kenya in 1906, adherents to the Kiesu movement went into convulsions at the sight of a European. Maitatsine was a Cameroonian prophet killed in Nigeria in 1980. He attacked extravagance, demanded strict adherence to Islamic law, and precipitated violence that resulted in thousands of deaths. Peter Chileshe Mulenga, born in 1939, had a vision on November 26, 1958; he became a prophet in Zambia among the Bemba people. Chaminuka, whose historical identity is uncertain, fostered a cult that involved spirits with political implications among the Rozwi and Shona of Zimbabwe. Prophets and religious movements that sought a return to better conditions have occurred at various times and places in Africa. These “cargo cults” anticipated a new age during which the old order would give way to a new paradise, a return to God.

(Xhosa/South Africa) In South Africa, Nongqawuse was a Xhosa seer, from Centane District in the Transkei (1841–1898). She was a daughter of Mhlantla, raised by her uncle, Mhlakaza, a medical doctor of the Gcaleka people. Her home was on the banks of the Gxara, a small river in Centane District. In 1856, she declared that Xhosa ancestral spirits had spoken to her, telling her that the Xhosa people must kill all their cattle and destroy their grain. On a certain day, the sun would rise bloodred, then stand still in the sky, and the cattle pens and the grain pits would then be filled again, the old Xhosa leaders would rise from the dead with their warriors, and the whites would be driven into the sea. Her prophecy spread from the Gcaleka to the Ngqika (both Xhosa peoples). Great numbers of cattle, between 300,000 and 400,000, were killed, and grain was destroyed. On the appointed day, the Xhosa waited in suspense. Nothing happened. Famine then claimed thousands of human lives, perhaps 41,000 in the Ciskei alone, while the numbers in the Transkei remain unknown. Nongqawuse was taken prisoner, kept for some time on Robben Island, then spent the remainder of her life on a farm in Alexandria District. See also: Kejok.

Subjects: Religion.

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