Nahziryah Monastic Community

aka: Purple People

Nahziryah Monastic Community is a remote esoteric spiritual center located in rural Marion County in the Ozark Mountains. The African-American commune was built by the Reverend Nazirmoreh K. B. Kedem in the mid-1990s on a 100-acre parcel of land as a survivalist compound in preparation for Y2K. By the early 2000s, Kedem had begun to advertise the place as a spiritual retreat center.

His initiates had to take strict vows of silence and abstinence under the “Nazir Order of the Purple Veil.” Initiates were required to wear purple clothing, so they were referred to by outsiders as “The Purple People.” Followers agreed to relinquish all possessions, past relations, and birth names. They were prohibited from speaking, except when spoken to by Kedem, and only then had to respond in “Sahgole,” a language he fabricated from Aramaic, an ancient Semitic language. Anyone in Kedem’s presence had to abstain from using personal pronouns when addressing him. Kedem’s religious title was dispensed by the Universal Life Church, an online non-denominational religious organization that offers free ordination credentials to those who join.

When asked about his origins, Kedem has referred to himself as eternal. Census records show that Kedem was born Duval Augusta Mitchell in 1940 to a working-class family in Chicago, Illinois. His first-born daughter, Makeba Kedem-Dubose, a Chicago artist, says he was born Catholic but changed his name to Kadmeeayl Ben Kedem as a Black Hebrew-Israelite convert in the 1960s. Black Hebrew-Israelites believe they are descendants of a lost tribe of Israel. Like Kedem, some adopt Hebrew names, practice polygamy, reject birth control, and keep strict vegan diets.

Kedem left behind his family of origin in Chicago in the 1970s, as well as Makeba and her mother, to move with a handful of followers to the backwoods of De Kalb, Mississippi, to establish his back-to-the-land religious commune. There, he became increasingly ascetic, adopting an amalgam of Essene, Buddhist, and Hindu beliefs.

Kedem has claimed worldwide adherents but, at most, he attracted no more than thirty brothers and sisters, including his extended family. He has had as many as five wives (though only one a legal marriage) and thirteen children.

In 1985, the order relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana, to expand his following, and there Kedem opened a bookstore and gift shop called the Veil of Truth Center for Metaphysical and Esoteric Learning on Ponce De Leon Street, before relocating to Arkansas fifteen years later.

In the Ozarks, the community lived in rustic cabins and lodges, subsisted on bulk organic foods and home-grown garden produce, and chopped firewood for fuel. The women and older children manufactured spiritual merchandise and crafts that were sold online and at local festivals by pairs of silent sisters. Kedem’s children were never allowed off the premises, nor were they homeschooled or provided conventional medical care. Along with the adults, they were expected to fast and to meditate three hours a day, morning, noon, and dusk.

In 2010, Shakeenah Kedem, Kedem’s fourth wife, left the commune, along with their five children, ages eighteen to twenty-five. She told her husband that she was taking a leave of absence but never returned. Eight years later, she alleged in a radio documentary that Kedem subjected her and the children to extreme physical abuse and starvation. Other members later came forward with similar allegations. No law enforcement records exist to substantiate their claims.

In the summer of 2016, several of the reverend’s grown children, accompanied by Makeba Kedem-DuBose, traveled back to the commune to confront their father. He denied their claims, accusing them of lying. Two years later, two of his young-adult children committed suicide.

Kedem continues to operate Nahziryah Monastic Community, rebranding it online as an eco-village. (The eco-village website also has the claim that the community was established in the early 1960s.) By 2020, one female devotee reportedly remained on the compound, serving as his caregiver and site caretaker.

Long cited by the Foundation for Intentional Communities as a credible religious center, Nahziryah Monastic Community was removed from the foundation’s website after abuse allegations emerged.

For additional information:
Froelich, Jacqueline “Lifting the Purple Veil: Refugees from an Ozarks Cult Detail Abuse.” Arkansas Times, April 2019, pp. 22–27. Online at https://arktimes.com/news/cover-stories/2019/04/01/refugees-from-an-ozarks-cult-detail-abuse (accessed February 25, 2020).

———. “Reclusive Ozarks Commune Operates Under Veil of Violence.” Ozarks at Large, KUAF Public Radio, February 26, 2018. Online at https://www.kuaf.com/post/reclusive-ozarks-commune-operates-under-veil-violence#stream/0 (accessed February 25, 2020).

Nahziryah Monastic Community EcoVillage. https://purpleecovillage.com/ (accessed February 25, 2020).

Jacqueline Froelich
National Public Radio KUAF

Last Updated: 02/25/2020

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