Zion Christian Churches Churches Liturgy Prophets Services Members

© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

The Liturgy

Prophecy Sticks/Poles

Prophets often carry these as part of their church uniform. Individual prophets have different poles. These are believed to help them to prophesy and while they are dancing they will dance with them. These come in all combinations, again according to an individual's instructions from the Spirit. For example they may be a bundle of bamboos wrapped with different coloured cords, a single metal stick, a knob-kerrie with or without decorations of coloured cords, a shepherd's crook, or one Moruti had a palm frond decorated with cords. These can perhaps be compared with the ditaola (bones) used by a traditional doctor, as poles (like ditaola - bones)  are believed to assist the prophet to "see". One Moruti told me that these poles are justified in the Bible in Numbers 17 v. I I (the story of Aaron) and also in Exodus 7, v. 9 (“the rod became a serpent").

These poles may be used whilst praying upon people as will be seen later. Or they may be used to stir Holy Water during a special healing service,  or to touch the sacrificial animal whilst it is being prayed for before being slaughtered.


Candles were used in all the services I attended. Usually one is put in the centre of the dance circle and on the table/altar (if used). At more prosperous churches there may be a 7-branched candelabra and, even at an ordinary service, all 7 candles may be lit. At special services such as Setlhabelo or Ditapelo many candles will be burnt. The person making the service will provide several packets. Candles may form part of the sacrificial items.

Informants explained that these candles assist the prophets to receive their prophecy from the Spirit, but none mentioned Badimo in this ~, * 1

connection, as stated by West~.

Probably this is another example of a church practice learnt in South Africa, which has developed out of South African traditional religions and the been introduced into Botswana where - like drums- it is not part of traditional religious practice

Music, Musical Instruments and the Sacred Dance

Although hymns from other mission churches may be used as well as those from the Z.C.C. hymn book, hymns used in these Zion churches are given quite another tune and rhythm. The congregation sing the hymns, accompanying the tune with clapping (all churches had church choirs), and the commonest musical instrument, which is a drum. All the churches I visited use drums. This use of drums is an interesting feature because, although they are traditional in South Africa, apart from one minority Tswana tribe in the North (Hambukushu), traditionally they are not used in Botswana. The Church practice has been imported from South Africa.

Men or women who are talented at this may beat the drums, which are commonly made from cow skin stretched tightly over half of a tin drum container. Drum sticks are often made of short lengths of hose pipe.

Bells and rattles are also used in Churches, but not so commonly as drums.

Members dance to the hymn, usually around a candle placed in the middle of the floor, they dance in a line following the lead of a senior member. Men, women and children dance. (Menstruating women do not dance, this compares to the traditional attitude to menstruation, when a woman is believed to suffer from "hot blood". ) As the dancing becomes more spirited the dancers twirl around, hissing like snakes and may even jump up in the air. However sometimes at special services held to find the cause of particular problems, only the more experienced prophets will dance.

Ways of Dancing

(Dots in centre represent the candle plus those being prophesied)'

Preaching and the Bible

The Bible is the absolute authority in the Zion Church. It is believed to be the Word of God. Passages from the Bible are always read at the regular services as a basis for the Baruti to preach on. Usually a Moruti will call upon the Secretary to read the appropriate part of the Bible according to the Christian calendar and then preach on those verses, emphasizing what has been said in the Bible. At special services the appropriate part of the Bible is always read as a justification for the service and as instructions for the conduct of the service. Reading the Bible as instructed by the Baruti is part of the Secretary's job. Both men and women preach, usually spontaneously, guided by Moya - the Spirit.

Holy Water

This is used in all Zion churches. It is water that is specially prayed for at the service, by an important Moruti, to render it Holy. It may have certain additives, as will be seen at the Healing Service. Members may drink, or be sprinkled with, Holy Water as part of a regular service, and it is also sprinkled (as will be seen) at special services to protect and heal.

Members commonly have their own supply, their own bottles being re-filled at ordinary services. Such personal supplies may be used daily to wipe on the face, hands, or add to washing water. Again this is for general healing and protection. Zionists may "put" new houses by burying bottles of Holy Water under the plot or hanging them from the rafters. This is in much the same way as a traditional doctor will bury traditional medicines to protect a new house. Members with special problems often hang small bottles of Holy Water with wool cords from the rafters or above the entrances, again this is for general protection and/or healing.


Prayer is believed "to be very important. This takes various forms; for example, when members enter the church at the beginning of the service there is a time of confession. In some churches individual members kneel down in turn and publicly confess their sins, individual troubles and temptations. In others, everyone simultaneously kneels down and then confesses their sins.

People being prophesied; and answering the words of prophets often request members to pray for them to help their problems. As in Type I and 2 Churches ~ the Lord's Prayer is usually said at the end of sessions of confessions.

Usually there is a point towards the end of the service when the Baruti, especially the Barapedi, will pray on all individual members. Members kneel in turn or in small groups, before the Morapedi, who will lay on hands on different parts of the individual's body, and pray on each person in turn, asking God's help to protect and heal the individual. This type of praying always has a part during special services. Even individuals receiving their new uniforms will be prayed on.

Particular words are used in services to punctuate preaching, prophesying, or confessing. They have set responses from the congregation; here are some examples of common ones:-

Speaker: Khotso/Kagiso*1 ene le Iona (Peace be with you).

Congregation: Amen.

Speaker: Leina la Modimo a lebakwe (Let's praise the Lord).

Congregation: Amen.

Speaker: Tshwarelo (Forgiveness).

Congregation: Amen.

Speaker: Modimo 0 nne mo go rona (God be in our hearts).

Congregation: Amen.

In conclusion it could be stated that all parts of the Zionist liturgy aim either to protect or heal the users or to strengthen the powers of the prophets, for example, dancing, singing, drumming,  using sticks etc. In this way the aim is similar to that of traditional Tswana medicine and other African religions - to promote potent force.

Protective Cords

In addition to specially prophesied, parts of uniform an individual may be prophesied' to wear protective cords. These are usually worn all the time and may be put on an individual at a special Healing Service. These are commonly of blue, red, green, yellow or white wool, or they may be made of combinations of these colours or a mixture of all of them. Most of my informants stated that the colours were not necessarily significant,*1 although some said that red was often prescribed for troubles with the blood. This is a very wide definition and includes problems of, and connected with maoto a molelo

To make these cords, lengths of wool are twisted together and placed around the wrists, ankles, waist, neck, like sashes, next to the skin. They are placed according to an individual's prescription, from a prophecy. These positions are similar to pieces of animal skin that may be tied around children for protection, or the beads traditionally put on young babies to protect them and show their growth rates. Cords may be tied around the rafters or the door way of a member's house to protect it. Bicycles, cars and babies also often have protective cords tied on them by their Zion owners to protect from ill- fortune, accidents, theft etc.

Moya - The Holy Spirit