PEOPLE who know me are aware that I am from a family of healers. Honestly, I don’t know much about ubuNGOMA but I know my way around. I took it upon myself to sit down with my SaNGOMA friends and strangers to ask questions that keep me up at night.
Knowing the sensitivity that comes with this subject, I was constantly praying that my questions are friendly. Also, as much as I have healers at home it’s not easy to just approach them, and they simply dance to your rhythm- hence I had to rely on friends regarding this matter. It really wasn’t an easy path that I chose to embark on but ke, had it been too easy then anyone would do it.
My uncle and aunt (His wife) are healers-I know right, how can a man who is a saNGOMA get married and then later in their marriage, the wife lands herself a calling too and had to heed it. Umalume has always been a strict, level headed and grounded person hence it’s very hard for me to approach him with some of the things I stumble upon as far as ubuNGOMA is concerned.
My aunt on the other hand is the coolest saNGOMA. She loves sharing her experiences and songs mostly-which is my favourite part about intwaso. When I can, I ambush her and ask a shit load of questions and try to remember every word.
In May 2012 I visited a place in Venda called Tshikwarani where my aunt was initiated, I was welcomed by these warmhearted old ladies who were fascinated by this city girl, so interested in learning so much about ubuNGOMA and for the first week I had to learn how to speak and understand TshiVenda. The reason I went there was to get images of what goes on Ephehlweni, but unfortunately I documented sacred rituals that cannot be shared on social media platforms, and to me that was bummer because it meant I had to start from scratch in terms of getting new footage.
I believe everything starts in a dream whereby a person would get visions showing specific things relating to what they need to do, or signs that show that their ancestors require attention. People who have ancestral spirits suffer almost from more or less the same symptoms; like blackouts, fainting during school and going into a trance. In their visions they would see images of people instructing them to perform certain rituals until they visit a traditional healer who would normally advise them to stop wasting resources and should undergo an intwaso (Initiation).
Many would wonder if Izangoma are capable of everything-are they Jack of all trades? There are many things they do but in the same breath, they know what they specialise in. For instance, one healer would specialise in Cleansing, Healing and Initiation.
Gogo Mahlalehlomile invited us to her home to share and educate us more about ubungoma, according to her she says some healers take their initiates to the river for 3 months to fulfill their specific spiritual calling. “I have two types of Amadlozi (spirits) -Ndawu and Nguni. Each fulfills a specific purpose: The Ndawu is for sniffing out evil spirits (Ukufemba) and the Nguni is a diagnosis (Ukuhlola/Ukuhlahluba) using bones. My very first patient was bewitched. She dreamt eating human hair, and during the consultation process I managed to get the poison out and she was healed.” Gogo Mahlalehlomile says.
Note that there shall be no Sangoma without the spirit, these two are inseparable. Idlozi communicates to your family, and to you as well through the healer. When you have idlozi, you realise the need to dress appropriately to appease the spirit. You should eat the food that assists with spiritual growth (ukudlakwama Dlozi). There is a responsibility to respect human life and frequently perform rituals to appease the spirit. As the spirit grows in you, it brings economic development to you.
The purpose of being a traditional healer is to help others – not only for profit gain. However, because healers too need to earn a living, their patients pay.
If there is a client that needs help but can’t afford, they can still get helped-they would have to reach an agreement or barter services.
We asked about charlatans in the profession, Gogo Mahlalehlomile says “I feel terrible. Ancestors should penalize them because of these immortal acts, people lose lives. Let’s practice our art and science with honesty and integrity. Patients have to analyse the person behind the promise, and have the right to establish the healer’s credentials before undergoing any healing process.”
According to our research, most traditional healers don’t really have suppliers for their herbs, but they go and harvest with their initiates. Hence izaNgoma emphasize that amathwasa must respect nature and take care of it.
WHAT IS EPHEHLWENI?
Ephehlweni is an initiation school located in a sacred place where aspiring traditional health practitioners are initiated. The school caters for initiates with different spiritual needs, such as Ndawe, Nguni and others.
WHAT DETERMINES A GOBELA?
To qualify as a Gobela, you must be initiated either in Nguni, Ndawe or both areas of spirituality. A Gobela must have the ability to do proper diagnosis and administer proper treatment. After initiation, you need to recruit at least two initiates to thwasa under you.
LIKE ANY OTHER SCHOOL, EPHEHLWENI HAS RULES AND ETHICS AS WELL, THEY ARE AS FOLLOWS:
*Initiates are expected to wake up in the early hours of the morning before any other person wakes up.
*Initiates should conform to a set dress code
*No sex or sexual favours are allowed.
*Initiates should not be charged monies for beers (for rituals) or blankets, nor are they required to give luxury gifts to the Gobela and his or her family, unless it is a choice they made by iThwasa.
HOW MANY SPIRITS ARE THERE?
In isiZulu, there are seven spirits. There are things that happen to your body and certain dreams that will let you know what kind of spirit you have, ISIBONELO: uMndawe, uMnguni, uMdinki, Amakilimane, uMlozi, Isithunywa or Amabutho. Amabutho are the spirits of soldiers who were cast away, commonly known as the warriors.
What informs the spirit of what you have is private, I can assure you. However, nothing happens unless an ancestor comes to you says ‘I want you to do this and that.’ Uma usuyinyanga, usukhulile.
It had nearly been a decade since Miriam Makeba released any project, when she gave the world her classic album Sangoma in 1988.
Mama Africa, as she was known throughout the world, was a superstar of note. She is credited, alongside Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita and Hugh Masekela and others, for being the first globally recognized African musicians.
Sangoma was as a follow up to Comme une Symphonie d’amour that came out in 1979. She was the first world superstar to come from Mzansi, who never lost touch with her Africaness, regardless of where in the world she was.
During her time in exile, after being banned by the South African government, a number of countries became an abode for her. She was issued passports by Algeria, Guinea, Belgium and Ghana. She held nine passports and was granted honorary citizenship by at least 10 countries.
True to her moniker Mama Africa, she was the only performer invited by Halie Selassie to perform at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity (what it today known as the African Union) in 1963. A book could be written on her life as a political activist, alone. She was married to Stokely Carmichael, who was a prominent member of the Black Panther Party, and was very vocal against the apartheid system in South Africa, from wherever she was in the world.
In her Grammy award winning album with Harry Belafonte in 1966,one of the stand-out songs there was Ndodemnyama Verwoerd! which lambasted one of the architects of the oppressive system.
She had style, poise yet at the same time, abrasive when it came to things she was passionate about. Often misunderstood, much like her friend Nina Simone, she left a legacy that a lot of African artists live off today.
Her influence couldn’t be captured in one article. But as Sangoma celebrates 30 years since its release, here are some of the songs that came with the album.