A Biblical Critique Of The Veneration Of Ancestors And The Use Of Magic As Practised In The Kingdom Of eSwatini -- By: Neville Curle

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 22:1 (Sep 2016)
Article: A Biblical Critique Of The Veneration Of Ancestors And The Use Of Magic As Practised In The Kingdom Of eSwatini
Author: Neville Curle


A Biblical Critique Of The Veneration Of Ancestors And The Use Of Magic As Practised In The Kingdom Of eSwatini

Neville Curle1

Abstract

The roles of God, the ancestors, their mediators (the tangoma), and His Majesty Mswati III in the lives of the people of Swaziland are critiqued from a biblical perspective. It is shown that there are cultural beliefs and practices which are in conflict with biblical teaching, but which have found their way into the broader Church. This leads to a distortion in the preaching of the Gospel: God is portrayed as far removed and favour with God is believed to be accessible only through his interme-diaries (the ancestors), leading to fearful subjugation. These two aspects of the image of God converge in a way that obstructs the central importance of the grace of God as found through faith in Christ Jesus.

1. Introduction

The kingdom of eSwatini (Swaziland) is a country in which two cultural themes predominate—ancestral veneration and patriarchalistic rule (van Schalkwyk 2006:219; Nyawo 2004:62; Curle 2012:84). The vast majority of the kingdom can trace their ancestry back to a limited number of Nguni clans with a common language—isiSwati (Matsebula 1988; Oluikpe 1997:15-27). This relative homogeneity of worldview within the country makes Swaziland useful as a case study to examine the impact of both of the above-mentioned cultural themes on the preaching of the Gospel. The discussion of the two themes has been split into two articles, so that each can be critiqued in a meaningful way.

According to many people and institutions, Christianity is said to dominate the eSwatini belief system (CIA 2016: ¶4; US Department of State 2012:¶4; Kasenene 1993:129; Kumalo 2013:43; Nxumalo 2014:13). However, there are significant areas of conflict within the wider Church’s2 understandings of the roles of God, the ancestors, their mediators—the tangoma—and the role played by His Majesty. Firstly, the underlying nature and character of Mkhulumnqande (Marwick 1966:228; Mbiti 1991:48) / Mvelinchanti (Kasanene 1993a:12; Oluikpe 1997:46; Nyawo 2004:51-57) (the Creator or Great Ancestor of the Swazis) and uNkulunkulu (the name given to God by the missionaries) ‘are worlds apart’ (Kuper 1986:62). Secondly, there is one’s own understanding of the role and function of emadloti (ancestors). Thirdly, there is a very real dichotomy in the understanding of the role of tangoma in the everyday life of the average citizen. Finally, there is the office of the...

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