In traditional healing in South Africa, the spiritual, physical, ancestral and psychological worlds are interconnected. Nyangas and Sangomas are the African version of traditional doctors or the shaman.
The catch-all term MUTI refers to numerous types of traditional medicines. Over 80% of the South African population consults traditional healings, either a traditional healer or traditional diviner. Traditional healing is a cosmology and not a religion, the traditional African healing, the spiritual, physical, psychological and ancestral worlds are all entwined, making traditional healers the mediums through which these worlds communicated.
Traditional healing ceremonies can be attended by all, these happen in rural areas and cities throughout the year. During ceremonies the nyangas and sangomas enter a trance state to communicate with their ancestors. These traditional healers believe that the ancestors have singled them out, called them to practice healing. They also believe that in the case someone chosen fails to answer a call to, that a negative impact on the person ignoring the call will follow, such as instability, illness or even insanity.
But then it is also not so easy to become a sangoma. The rigorous journey full of hardships called twasa is filled overpowering visions and confrontations, meant at psychically organising the person for his calling. A traditional healer’s task is to be a medium between the physical and spiritual worlds with hidden causes behind illness and misfortune plus to prescribe suitable action.
An estimated 200,000 traditional healers currently offer their services in South Africa and the World Health Organisation confirmed that up to 80% of all people in Africa rely on traditional medicine as primary healthcare. Numbers are on the increase due to high healthcare bills.
Animal bones used in rituals mostly belong to cattle, these are sacrificed during initiation ceremonies. Initiation consists of 3 steps. The 1st step requires the sacrifice of a chicken, its blood is used in traditional herbs mixes, to be swallowed by students. Decorative headdresses are made from its feathers, the 2nd stop, requires a goat to be sacrificed, its throat needs to be cut and its blood poured over the new sangoma. The process is celebrated by beating drums, dance and singing, trance-like states to feel closer to the ancestors. Finally the 3rd step, needs a cow to be sacrificed when the sangoma is ready to leave his teacher’s town, this is in preparation for his own practice.
The 1st white male in recent study to become a sangoma was John Lockley, now a fully initiated sangoma of the Xhosa lineage. Lockley practices half the year in Grahamstown and travels around the world to heal spiritual diseases, he does this by focusing on meditation, dream interpretation and ancestral connections. John runs workshops to assist people to connect with dreams and their ancestors. Becoming a real sangoma in the Xhosa tribe comprises of many different stages ranging from 3, 5 or even seven ceremonies. Completing all stages results in the student becoming a “Ligquirha inkulu”, which means a senior sangoma, once a senior the sangoma can then train apprentice others. Lockley says people are more linked to their spirit, have less of a desire to put other down.