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Maranke, John


MARANKE, JOHN (19121963), African religious prophet and founder of the Apostolic Church of John Maranke. John (or Johane) Maranke was born Muchabaya Ngomberume in 1912. His birthplace is believed to be near Bondwe Mountain in the Maranke Tribal Trust Land of Southern Rhodesia. His father, Mombe-rume, was part of the royal Sithole lineage, and his mother was the daughter of the Shona chief Maranke.

Church records indicate that Maranke was baptized a Methodist under the name of Roston at the local mission. Some of his instructors thought that he would eventually enter the Methodist ministry. In July of 1932, however, John, as he is referred to by his followers, received a spiritual calling to start the Apostolic church. An account of the visionary experiences leading to his calling is presented in the Humbowo Hutswa we Vapostori (The New Revelation of the Apostles), a book composed in the Shona language by Maranke and viewed by the movement as a major ecclesiastical text.

When John was five years old, he began to hear strange voices and see visions. After a year of Methodist primary school, he claimed that he had been visited by the Holy Spirit. He prayed continually and stood on top of anthills preaching to the trees. During this time, John was plagued by a mysterious childhood illness that could not be diagnosed. Following this illness, he lived for a short period of time in the mountains and was thought by his relatives and friends to be dead.

On the evening of July 17, 1932, near Mount Nyengwe in Umtali District, John allegedly witnessed a bright light and heard a heavenly voice that said: "You are John the Baptist, an Apostle. Now go and do my work. Go to every country and preach and convert people." John regarded this vision as a divine calling from the Holy Spirit to found the Apostolic church.

Between 1932 and 1934, John's church grew rapidly. After the initial spiritual revelation, John, his brothers Conorio and Anrod, and his uncle Peter Mupako went to spread the news to the neighboring settlements. Ruka (Luke) Mataruka, John's brother-in-law, became the first convert and evidenced signs of his spiritual calling immediately. John himself was baptized by Ruka. As the news of John's revelation spread beyond his extended family, people from all parts of the district flocked to him to receive spiritual healing.

On Saturday, July 20, 1932, the first Apostolic Sabbath was held near the Murozi, or "Jordan," River, in which the new converts were baptized. It is estimated that approximately 150 new members were baptized on that day. Ruka was made the first evangelist of the church. Two of John's cousins, Simon (Mushati) and Gwati, were designated respectively as the first prophet and first secretary of the church; his brother Conorio became the first healer. Momberume, John's father, was also baptized then and was made the elder judge (mutongi ) of the church, charged with resolving disputes.

On August 24, 1934, the Passover (Paseka or Pendi ) of the Apostolic church was held. This celebration was a combined reenactment of the Last Supper and a Eucharist. It was also intended to commemorate the moment at which John Maranke received his initial calling from the Holy Spirit and, hence, was also known as the Pendi, or Pentecost. After John's death, the date of the celebration was changed to July 17, in honor of the date of John's first calling. During the Passover, Apostles from all regions gather to confess sins of the preceding year and to celebrate spiritual renewal. As the church has grown, the importance of this celebration has increased.

Eventually, a leadership hierarchy consisting of four spiritual gifts (bipedi ) and three ranks (mianza ) was established for each Apostolic congregation. The spiritual gifts are designated as works of healing, evangelism, prophecy, and baptism. Members are ordained within each spiritual gift. The ranks within each gift are derived from the sacred word Lieb-Umah that John Maranke received in a prophetic revelation. The Apostles assert that this word means "he who speaks with God." John specified that each Apostolic congregation should contain three Lieb-Umahs, or priests, for each of the four gifts. Together, all of the men holding degrees of the Lieb-Umah rank within a single congregation constitute the Committee of Twelve Elders charged with its governance.

John and his relatives controlled the church from its center in Bocha, Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), until his death (allegedly by poisoning) in 1963. In the late 1940s, however, Ruka Mataruka gained a considerable following of his own and broke away from the parent church. John challenged Ruka's bid for power and was ultimately able to regain many of the dissident followers. After John's death, a schism again divided the Zimbabwean branch of the church when Simon Mushati formed another rival group. Simon argued that he had always been second to John in the leadership structure of the church and challenged the right of John's eldest son, Abel, to succeed his father. Invoking Shona customary law, John's brother Anrod performed a christianized version of the traditional inheritance ceremony and passed on the leadership to John's eldest sons, Abel and Makebo. By this time, the church was so large that it was necessary to travel to outlying districts and to other countries to perform the Passover. Abel, as John's legitimate successor, was given the power to perform the Passover and to lead the church. He divided these responsibilities with his younger brother Makebo, who traveled north to Nyasaland (now Malawi) and east to Mozambique on his behalf. By the 1960s, there were an estimated fifty thousand Maranke Apostles in Zimbabwe alone.

The Apostolic Movement on an International Scale

The Apostolic church entered Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) and Malawi (then Nyasaland) by 1948. Initially, the Shona evangelist Kasimil visited these areas and baptized many new converts who subsequently spread the word among their relatives and in neighboring villages. The early congregations also contained many Shona members who had migrated north in search of work.

In 1952, Nawezi Petro, a Zairian of Lunda origin, encountered the Shona Apostles on a visit to Southern Rhodesia. He claimed that they healed his wife of tuberculosis after a series of European doctors had failed to do so. Nawezi and his wife immediately converted and returned home to introduce the church to Katanga Province (now Shaba). Meanwhile, the church spread northward to the Kasai Province of Zaire and to the capital, Kinshasa (then Léopoldville). Kasanda Vincent and Mujanaie Marcel, the first spokesmen for the group in the Kasai area, quickly acquired a large following. Over the years, several schisms developed in the Zairian branch of the Apostolic church. The major rift took place when Nawezi's brother-in-law Musumbu Pierre broke away from the Katanga congregation and acquired a large local following in the Kasai region. This struggle between Musumbu and Nawezi was finally resolved in 1974 when the church center acknowledged Musumbu's status as the first leader of the Zairian branch and the official representative of the Zairian congregations.

A similar pattern of growth took place in Angola and Mozambique, where the Apostolic church went through the characteristic pattern of rapid growth and subsequent schism. By the early 1980s, there were an estimated three hundred thousand members of the Maranke Apostolic church in six central and southern African nations: Zimbabwe, Zaire, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. The largest membership is concentrated in eastern Zimbabwe and southwestern Zaire.

The Impact of the Apostolic Church in Central and Southern Africa

Apostolic theology is highly moralistic, emphasizing the keeping of commandments, observation of food and other taboos, and the regular confession of sins. The Apostles accept the Old and New Testaments of the Bible equally as the foundation for their belief. Saturday is kept as the sabbath day. Biblical teachings are supplemented by John's prophetic book New Witness of the Apostles, which is considered to provide spiritual and moral directives for a better life. Emphasis is placed on Holy Spirit inspiration and faith healing.

Apostolic doctrine involves a clear reaction to the mission churches. Voluntary polygamy is condoned, and church members are encouraged to avoid Western medical treatment. At the same time, Apostles eschew many aspects of traditional religion, including the veneration of the ancestors and the use of herbal medicines and charms. The role of women as ceremonial leaders is emphasized in the church, and they hold the positions of prophetesses and healers. Although marriage is not considered a sacrament among the Apostles, the customary dowry is de-emphasized and the importance of the family unit is stressed.

Ceremonies are conducted in multiple languages, and church liturgy varies somewhat from one congregation to another, although the basic format of worship remains consistent. While the influence of John Maranke as a prophet and founder is acknowledged by all congregations, there has been no attempt to elevate him to divine or messianic status. He is considered to be a messenger of God and a reformer whose interpretation of Christianity has made it relevant to large segments of the African population. The movement contains an innovative combination of African customs and Christianity. The charismatic appeal of the church and an ability to absorb cultural variations have accounted for its spread and popularity across several African nations.


Aquina, Mary, o.p. "The People of the Spirit: An Independent Church in Rhodesia." Africa 37 (1967): 203219. Contains a brief account of the Apostolic movement in the Karanga area of Southern Rhodesia during the 1950s with an explanation of its doctrine and rituals. Emphasis is placed on the role of confession for church members.

Daneel, M. L. Old and New in Southern Shona Independent Churches, vol.1, Background and Rise of the Major Movements. The Hague, 1971. A detailed historical account of the background and rise of several Shona traditional cults and independent churches, including a discussion of the early years of the Apostolic Church of John Maranke in eastern Zimbabwe.

Jules-Rosette, Bennetta. African Apostles: Ritual and Conversion in the Church of John Maranke. Ithaca, N. Y., 1975. A study of the Apostolic Church of John Maranke in Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, containing a detailed account of the Zairian branch and discussion of ritual and the conversion process in the church based on firsthand ethnographic materials.

Jules-Rosette, Bennetta, ed. The New Religions of Africa. Norwood, N. J., 1979. An edited collection of eleven essays on new African religious movements containing an article on the role of women as leaders in the Maranke Apostolic church and an introductory comparison of the Maranke Apostles with related movements in the same region.

Maranke, John. The New Witness of the Apostles. Translated by J. S. Kusotera. Bocha, Rhodesia, 1953. A mimeographed pamphlet, giving an autobiographical account of the spiritual visions of John Maranke and the history of the founding of the church from his perspective; outlines the commandments and moral directives governing church membership.

Murphree, Marshall W. Christianity and the Shona. New York, 1969. A study of Christianity among the Shona of the Budja area of Mtoko District in Zimbabwe, containing an account of the relationships among the Methodists, the Roman Catholics, and the Maranke Apostles in the area. A description of Apostolic doctrine and ritual is included.

Bennetta Jules-Rosette (1987)

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