Nuwaubians, Who Are These People?
'We're comfortable for and with everybody'
The Macon Telegraph, May 15, 2000
By Matthew I. Pinzur
Inside the fraternity gathering hall in the Nuwaubian
village of Tama-Re, the walls are inlaid with intricate
stone carvings, illuminated with the light of ornate
lanterns dangling from the gold-painted ceiling.
Outside the hall is a Sno Cone stand and a kiddie train that
takes children on rides through the village.
Contrasts such as these are typical of the developed portion
of the 473-acre plot on Shady Dale Road, where monuments and
pyramids painted in many colors, form the basis of a complex
spiritual and cultural system.
The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors actually encompasses a
number of overlapping groups, according to Marshall Chance,
a Baptist minister who is the group's spiritual leader and
Groups include the Holy Tabernacle Ministry, which Chance
describes as a non-sectarian church, and the Ancient Mystic
Order of Melchizedek, a fraternal organization.
Chance calls the Nuwaubian movement a "cultural
renaissance," where people from various backgrounds are
invited to bring their beliefs into an amalgam of
Christianity, Islam, Judaism, ancient Egyptian religions and
unique Nuwaubian ideas.
They trace their roots to Egypt and claim their descendants
settled in the area now known as Putnam County before the
continents drifted apart. They believe they are among the
first people to live in America, and also call themselves
the Yamassee Native American Moors of the Creek Nation.
"We can feel and get a sense of our own cultures here,"
Chance said. "We're comfortable for and with everybody."
Chance and other Nuwaubians bristle at being called a cult,
explaining that they encourage and relish the diversity of
beliefs in their group rather than forcing members to
conform to a single set of ideas. Members are free to come
and go as they please, he said.
"We are very particular about giving people their space and
letting them be what they want to be," said Renee McDade,
also a Nuwaubian spokeswoman.
The Nuwaubians publish a variety of books and pamphlets
about their lifestyle and beliefs, including a 1,700-page
sacred text called The Holy Tablets.
Chance said the belief system is built around the idea that
all major religions come from the same basic stories and
characters and are therefore inter-related.
More attention has been given to ideas about
extra-terrestrials and the belief that 144,000 people will
be taken aboard a space vessel on May 5, 2003.
Some members do believe in unconventional ideas about aliens
and flying saucers, but others - who spoke on the condition
their names not be used - said they joined to be part of the
cultural exchange and tight community, and expect to live on
the land well beyond 2003.
'Father, Mentor, Counselor, Guide'
Chance said those aspects of the religion have been
misrepresented. They do embrace a belief that their ancestry
is from beyond Earth, but Chance said the details of those
beliefs have been confused by erroneous information
presented on the unregulated plains of the Internet.
A Time magazine article, for example, quoted a Web site in
which the Nuwaubian leader Malachai Z. York claimed to be
"the Supreme Being of This Day and Time, God in the Flesh."
But York, Chance said, does not have a Web site and that
information did not come from the official Nuwaubian
"He's like a father, mentor, counselor and guide," Chance
said of York, under whom the minister studied. "He was born
here and has parents here, though he may trace his culture
to the stars."
York rarely appears in public, McDade said, moving around
from place to place. He answered a court order to appear in
Putnam Superior Court on contempt charges earlier this
summer and also celebrated in Tama-Re during a festival last
"He's very down to earth and very much like a father,"
McDade said. "I don't see him as any different from any
Before purchasing the Putnam County land in 1993, according
to tax records for $975,000, York lived in Sullivan County,
New York, and was known as Dwight York. He founded the
Nuwaubian nation there as early as 1970, after serving three
years in prison in the 1960s for resisting arrest, assault
and possession of a dangerous weapon.
"He moved here to retire," Chance said.
York, according to Chance, earned most of the sum as a music
producer, saying he produced such hits as Billy Paul's "Me
and Mrs. Jones," Teddy Pendergrass' "Close the Door" and The
Delfonics "La La Means I Love You."
York is not listed as the producer in the credits of any of
York transferred the deed in February to Tama-Re Enterprises
at no charge. It was transferred again on June 19 to a group
of nine people: Nathaniel Washington, Yvonne Powell, Vincent
Powell, Ethel Richardson, Anthony Evans, Donald McIntyre,
Patrice Evans, Althea Shine and Michelle Mitchell.
Just as the Nuwaubians were moving to Georgia from their
original home in New York in 1993, the FBI released a report
that linked the group to welfare fraud and extortion. But
there is no indication that any arrests were made as a
result of the report.
'America's A Great Country'
Chance said the Putnam County group is dedicated to obeying
and celebrating American laws and life.
"We're looking at the greatest country, the greatest land,
the greatest place," Chance said. "America's a great
In taped speeches, York has said the group will form a
nation on the land, passing laws, issuing passports and
Chance said there are no such plans, and the group looks
forward to developing a theme park, recording studio, more
housing and other facilities on the land. Those efforts have
been stymied by a conflict with county authorities over
permits and zoning.
Chance declined to speculate about how many members the
Nuwaubian groups have, or about how many live in Tama-Re.
McDade said the land is open daily to visitors and members
host classes about Nuwaubian beliefs Sundays at 4 p.m.
"It's an opportunity to experience us," McDade said. "No one
feels any obligations."
The Macon Telegraph obtained copies of the applications to
both the Holy Tabernacle Ministries and the Ancient Mystic
Order of Melchizedek. Both ask for an assortment of
The application to the Mystic Order requires a $25
membership fee and includes a pledge of silence, forbidding
the applicant from discussing or divulging documents from
the order. Those requirements aren't much different from
The church application includes a comprehensive medical
history and requires proof of a completed HIV test and
copies of birth certificates and Social Security cards.
Some members move to the land, Chance said, and others only
pass through for a short time. Artists and tradesmen have
spent weeks in Tama-Re simply to add their talents to the
monuments and buildings, and others join but continue to
live in nearby towns of Eatonton and Milledgeville.
Once accepted, members are given Tama-Re passports and
license plates, which grant them access to the land and
passage through the armed security guards at the gate.
On weekends, Tama-Re is often bustling with members and
visitors. Some dress in simple black or white robes as they
seek spiritual enlightenment while reading sacred texts and
walking through a stone labyrinth that encircles the black
pyramid, their holy temple. Others are dressed in weekend
clothing - shorts or jeans, T-shirts and sportcoats - as
they sit around the elaborate fountains and chat. Salsa
music blasts from a speaker affixed to a stories-high
obelisk near the church while blues croon from an area near
the Sphinx, and chants drone from another speaker near the
"We're building a place that's something better," Chance
said. "People have encountered miracles here."
Children play on a trampoline just yards away from a
recreation of King Solomon's Temple, which serves as the
"These are tribalistic lands," Chance said. "It's home for