Monday, February 15, 2016

South African Isikhalanga - Zion (Wafa Wafa) music & movement forms)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases seven video examples of South African and Zimbabwean Zion (wafa wafa) ikhalanga, a religious chanting/singing and movement form or forms.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, religious, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in the videos that are embedded in this post. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the publishers of those videos on YouTube.

My comments about isikhalanga are based on the very limited amount of information that is found online, including reading the Wikipedia article on South African and Zimbabwean Zion denominations, watching South African/Zimbabwean Zion YouTube videos, and reading Google translated comments from YouTube isikhalanga/ wafa wafa videos that have comments. I realize that any conclusions that I might make about isikhalanga may be inaccurate and/or incomplete.

I'm very interested in learning about isikhalanga from anyone else who knows about this subject or subjects. Please post more information about isikhalanga in the comment section of this post or elsewhere online.

"Isikhalanga" is a music and movement form that is associated with South African Zion denominations. "Isikhalanga" is sometimes given as "zion iskhalanga" and "gospel isikhalanga". That word is also given as "is'khalanga" and "khalanga".

According to
"Zionist Churches are a group of Christian denominations that derive from the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, Illinois. Missionaries from the church came to South Africa in 1904 and among their first recruits were Pieter Louis le Roux and Daniel Nkonyane of Wakkerstroom who continued to evangelize after the Zionist missionaries left in 1908.[1].

The Zionist Churches proliferated throughout southern Africa, and became African Independent Churches; research in 1996 suggested
that 40% of all black South Africans belonged to a Zionist church.
Among the characteristics of Zionist denominations listed in that Wikipedia article are "Ritual garments, often mostly white, and prophetic staffs." and "Some smaller denominations worship in the open air, and practise "wheel" dances". This "wheel dance" is what is referred to as "isikhalanga".

According to Google translates, "isikhalanga" is a Zulu word whose English translation is "weapon". I don't know if that translation is pertinent to the Zion music and dance form. I wonder if "isikhalanga" is a Zion Christian religious adaptation of a traditional Zulu warrior dance.

A number of YouTube videos entitled "wafa wafa" show people doing the movements that are referred to as "isikhalanga" in other videos. A Facebook page entitled "Zion (wafa wafa) suggests to me that "wafa wafa" is a referent for some (all?) South African Zion churches.

The videos of isikhalanga that I've watched to date show groups of people -usually all men, but sometimes also including some women - repeatedly moving around in a circular formation while singing or chanting. Sometimes individual participants do a fast spin while they move around that circle. Most of the men hold a long slender, wooden rod. Some videos show people leaving the group, standing to the side, and then rejoining the group. Some videos I've watch show a man standing inside that circle that is formed by the moving participants. That man appears to be directing the movement and/or exhorting the participants on.

The isikhalanga circular movement is somewhat similar to the 19th century and may be older African American religious shouts, although the videos of depictions of shouts that I've watched don't include the individual spinning that appears to be one of the key signatures of isikhalanga. That isikhalanga spinning movement reminds a little of the Sufi "whirling dervishes". That spinning also reminds me a little of the movements of some traditional Igbo Nigerian masqueraders.

I wonder if isikhalanga is danced to achieve a more heighten state of consciousness in which the participants praise God and further dedicate themselves to be of service to God. However, from the videos that I watched, it didn't appear to me that those people doing isikhalanga went into a trance state that was characterized by involuntary body twitches, speaking in tongues, or other physical manifestations that are associated with being “possessed”, “mounted by an orisa”, or people in Pentecostal congregations "getting happy" ("feeling the spirit", "getting your shout on", "going in")

One Google translation of the summary written in Zulu for the video given below as Example #2 provides a hint for me about the meaning of these wheel formation dances:

"T-jolo Tjo to Getshenge sisiza abantu abale nhlupho emizini yabo nge mithandazo egameni lenkosi ..."

Google translate:
T-Lajolo Tjo to Getshenge help people calculate the plague in their homes with prayers in the name of the king ...

My American English translation:
T-Lajolo Tjo to Getshenge helps people gain protection from diseases with prayers in the name of the king.

These examples are given in chronological order according to their publishing dates on YouTube with the oldest dated example given first.

Example #1: Wafa Wafa

MANYELE-MGOROTSE, Uploaded on Nov 8, 2011

From plumtree via Tsholotsho...

Example #2: Wafa wafa

MANYELE-MGOROTSE Uploaded on Nov 9, 2011

T-jolo Tjo to Getshenge sisiza abantu abale nhlupho emizini yabo nge mithandazo egameni lenkosi ujesu.....

Example #3: Wafa-wafa - Xhaninxhani

MANYELE-MGOROTSE, Published on Mar 3, 2013

wafa wafa council of churchies yithi labo.

Example #4: Zion ze UK warming up

MANYELE-MGOROTSE, Published on May 19, 2014

Maka dunyiswe oyi ncwele...
Google translate:
Mark praised pre trimming ...
American English: Mark praising warming up (rituals? exercises?)

Example #5: Wafa Wafa Ntoli Manguba part 2

MANYELE-MGOROTSE, Published on Mar 21, 2015

Example 6: Believers in Christ Isikhalanga

Johan Sibiya Promotions, Published on May 2, 2015

Example #7: Abadumisi BakaThixo-Ziyehla Izinyembezi/Akusavumi Mangithule

Trust in christ, Published on May 17, 2015

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