Debra Matabvu in Guruve
One Friday, some 2 000 years ago, darkness engulfed Earth from noon to 3pm.
The Lord hung on the cross, a crown of thorns upon his head, with blood dripping from his brow and temples.
He gave up His spirit, only to resurrect on the third day and show Himself to His disciples.
Though the Bible tells us that Jesus has since taken His place next to the Father, the Mudzimu Unoyera Sect in Mashonaland Central’s Guruve District believes he or she, rather lives in Zimbabwe.
And for that reason, Easter has a different signicance for them.
The sect is headquartered in Chatiza Village, 22km south of Guruve Business Centre, and The Sunday Mail visited them on Good Friday.
When we arrived, barefooted women of all ages, clad in khaki trousers and hats, white blouses and wooden necklaces were milling around what resembled a compound.
A boy and an elderly man inquired on our mission, disappeared into one of the huts and returned 10 minutes later to usher us into the temple.
The throng made one uneasy.
Titinoia Pirida, their language, as I later learnt, intercoursed with various voices, finding expression in unfamiliar songs. It is their medium of communication, and work is underway to produce a bible in that language.
As we went along, I kept swallowing the impulse to ask, “So, where is Jesus?”
A strange and equally intriguing form offered a distraction each time the urgency of that question emerged.
At the temple’s entrance was a carving of a three-headed snake and a small boat. The snake, I was told, represents the Holy Trinity, while the boat was just a gift.
The inside of the temple is painted blue, and drawings and sculptures of huge snakes, fish and hippopotami fill the walls.
There are also inscriptions like “nyoka huru yemugungwa, tipeiwo mvura” and others in Titinoia Pirida.
The singing suddenly stopped at the instruction of a female voice that came from behind a curtain.
As the curtain was slowly drawn, steel bars nailed to the wall began to show, and the full frame of a cage suspended about two-and-half metres above the ground appeared. Beneath the cage was a small pond with fish swimming about. And in the cage was a woman draped in a blanket, lying on a bed, and beside her was a doll that could easily be mistaken for a real baby.
Though I had known of this sect’s existence, I hadn’t prepared for all of this. Numbing fear, bewildering culticism.
The woman asked our crew to produce ID cards and we complied after her instructions had been translated from Titinoia Pirida into Shona.
Moving steathily, she got out of the cage and came to us.
I thought I would see “Jesus”, but this was only “his mother”. “The Lord”, we were told, was not around.
Clad in white trousers, she introduced herself as Mai Maria (Mother Mary). Her real name is Mrs Entrance Nyanyete.
“I had forgotten that it is Easter. You have actually reminded me of my child’s death,” she said, sobbing. “This is actually one of the most painful times of my life as it reminds me of the time white people overseas killed my child.”
Her husband, known as “Baba Josefa” (Father Joseph), interjected: “You came here to ask about our Easter celebrations. See how painful it is to her? It is painful to celebrate because this is the day Jesus was killed.”
The gathering once again sang as one follower, Mary, wiped “Mai Maria’s” tears and sprinkled deodorant on her clothes.
The lyrics to the song had words like kechitino, kisdond, sobhiko and wanisa jethina — words that obviously have a meaning to them.
“Mai Maria” said Jesus died 2 000 years ago and was reincarnated as Emmanuel Dzanagare Mudyiwa in 1939.
Mudyiwa died in 1989 and the spirit found abode in her then six-year-old daughter, Tepsy Nyanyete, in 1998.
The sect believes Tepsy is Jesus, and refer to her as Jepsy Nyanyete, Jekia Mambo, Tenzi or Ishe Jesu.
Zimbabweans have come to know her as “Girl Jesus”. She is no girl now. She is 24-years-old.
The arrest of “Mai Maria” and “Baba Josefa” years back for assaulting police officers who were rescuing 160 children at the shrine has not tempered the enthusiasm of followers.
Mrs Nyanyete said: “For us, every Friday is Easter and we remember how they killed my child many years back. We celebrate it in our own way, with our own rituals, which include crying, singing and dancing.
“We are, however, grateful that Jesus came back, and this time, she will not die. She is not going away anymore. She is set to live forever and rule the earth.”
She claimed that “Jesus” had performed numerous miracles like raising some of her followers from the dead.
A young man known as “Razaro” (Lazarus) was at hand to give a testimony, but “Mai Maria” took over and related the “resurrection”.
Among the crowd were other Biblically-inspired characters: a long-haired chap known as Samson, “Mary Magdalene” and “Abraham”.
“Mai Maria” took us to “Jesus”, bedroom where a cot, diapers, baby clothes and blankets were neatly arranged. Pretty strange for a 24-year-old.
She explained her daughter’s passion for dolls and “introduced” us to one named Dillard.
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