Sangoma

A Sangoma is a highly respected healer among the Zulu people of South Africa who diagnoses, advises, and often performs rituals to heal a person physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. A Sangoma can address all of these areas in the healing process, which typically includes divination, herbal medicine, and specific customized rituals to heal illness and restore wellness.

Traditional Background

In tradition of Zulu, God is rarely involved in human affairs and is not a common cause of illness (isifo). However, God has assigned many administrative functions to the ancestors (Amadloji), who are therefore actively and continuously involved in the world of the living. As a result, they are often suspected of being responsible for sending isifo to the living. They do this not out of wickedness or greed but to punish the living for not conforming to the moral standards of the community and to remind them of their imperative duty to live a moral life. For example, failure to perform certain important rituals or violation of taboos may lead to ancestral anger, which manifests in the form of illness. One is then in spiritual contamination and imbalance, which must be remedied. Once a sangoma uses divination to establish the exact cause of an illness, certain rituals will be performed to appease the ancestors, thus restoring health. The behavior that angered the ancestors must not be engaged in again.

Calling

A person who is called a Sangoma must be called by the Spirit. The calling, ukutwasa, indicates an ancestral and cultural responsibility and is usually initiated by an illness, accompanied by strange dreams and visions. This disruption in the person’s daily life causes him or her to seek the services of various healers. Due to the easy availability of Western medicine in South Africa, many individuals, called twasa (apprentices), often try in vain to heal with modern medicine, before ending up with a sangoma who can correctly identify ukutwasa. This detection begins an initiation period, which can last from months to years depending on the circumstances.

Because Sangoma is called, there are no restrictions on gender imposed by society. However, most Sangomai are women.

Initiation

A twasa’s training and initiation usually includes various twasa rituals and actions that not only heal the person’s body but also instruct the twasa about the healing powers of herbs and traditional medicines. These actions teach the Tovasa’s body to perceive the subtle spiritual energies essential to the Sangoma’s work. Twasa must confess any negative thoughts to their instructor, refrain from eating certain foods and all sexual activity, and spend their days sitting with their instructor as the instructor receives clients. After completing a stage of initiation, a feast is held where a calf or goat is slaughtered. Toasa then searches the ashes for an unbroken bone. Eventually, this collection would become part of the sangoma’s dingaka, or oracle bone, to be used in divination, a common sangoma activity.

Conclusion: A Sangoma must act like a psychologist, understanding the power and workings of the human mind. Other skills of sangomas include the ability to distinguish between different types of ghosts and the ability to differentiate between manifestations of the patient’s mind and a real ghost with various extraterrestrial life forms.

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