The goddess, the festival and virginity testing
Nomkhubulwane is the goddess of rain, nature and fertility. A festival in honour of the goddess was held annually over 200 years ago, but with the introduction of Christianity, the worship of the female aspects of the gods waned, although the worship of the male aspect, Unkulunkulu, remained. Patience Gugu Ngobese (Nomagugu), decided when she was an honours student in Drama at the University of Natal in 1996, to revive the Nomkhubulwane Festival. The idea had come to her in a dream in 1994, and she has now left the teaching profession and become a sangoma.
As the maidens who participate in the festival must be virgins, according to ancient custom, the custom of virginity-testing was also revived, as part of the festival. This has led to the controversy between the sangomas (traditional healers) and traditionalists who support this practice, and those who oppose it, many of whom support the Commission on Gender Equality and belong to the Midlands Women’s Group. The spectre of HIV/Aids has made the controversy even fiercer. The Alan Paton Centre held a debate between these two opposing views in 2000. Information on this debate and the Virginity Testing Conference held by the Midlands Women’s Group in 1999, is available at the APC.
Also available is the video of the Nomkhubulwane Festival 1996 made by Nomagugu’s supervisor, Kendall, entitled ‘Calling the Zulu Goddess Home’, and a copy of Nomagugu’s thesis. The APC also houses the oral history project tapes and transcriptions made by the UNP Drama students who visited the festival in 1996 and 1997 and interviewed participants, sangomas, chiefs and other visitors.